LGBT Detroit, the city’s Black LGBTQ+ service provider, has been awarded new grant funding by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan to help eliminate a range of enduring racial, gender and sexual minority disparities persisting in civic participation throughout Southeast Michigan. This year, LGBT Detroit’s flagship voter engagement program, PRIDE Decides 2020, specifically targets LGBTQ+ communities of color in Wayne and Oakland Counties with its get out the vote message. In addition to expanding the LGBTQ+ people of color electorate in the region, the ACLUMI has also charged the organization with working with area partners, influencers and gatekeepers to increase community investment in the democratic process in what is as an exceptionally polarizing voting environment. The agency’s collaborative efforts are made all the more challenging by the novel coronavirus pandemic and concerns for voter safety, pushing LGBT Detroit to innovate such tried and true in-person organizing strategies as street canvassing, voter registration and traditional door-knocking campaigns usually used to engage constituents as part of voter education and other GOTV activities.
“Of course, the coronavirus requires us to be more on our toes in talking and partnering with Michigan residents about the issues and platforms that are most important to us all,” said Jerron Totten, LGBT Detroit’s Social Outreach Coordinator, Legislative Advocacy Specialist and Field Director for PRIDE Decides 2020. “That said, thanks to this support by the ACLU of MI, we aren’t too worried about reaching folks. With these additional resources, we’ll be able to use state-of-the-art technology in voter engagement software, stage online community mobilization events, and host several aggressive virtual campaign strategies that meet Michigan residents where they are.”
While LGBT Detroit and its partners will heavily rely on new and emerging technologies, the initiative is also still relying on traditional methods like phone banking and the distribution of voter education print information to also reach those Michiganders who may still be part of the digital divide and not have access to the internet.
“We welcome those interested in volunteering with us on the phones and in the community to both capture what’s happening on the ground with Michiganders in terms of barriers to casting their votes and making sure that the community is receiving giving accurate, helpful and up-to-date information on how to cast such things as absentee ballots with a now even slower and potentially less reliable mail system,” Totten said. “There’s also a lot of misinformation out there to combat and new strategies to suppress the vote are ever-evolving and must be immediately countered.”
Not new at assisting constituents in overcoming such barriers, LGBT Detroit has been working to educate, inform and galvanize residents in various civic engagements since its inception, including candidates forums, canvassing campaigns and other classic political organizing efforts. However, recognizing the heightened importance of 2020 as both a census and presidential election year, LGBT Detroit has upped its game, from its ongoing U.S. Census participation initiative which reaches residents through online pep rallies to its digital and social media canvassing to reach prospective voters to find out what is needed to move them from the fence to the polls. Toward those aims, in July of this year, the agency became a national pioneer by hosting the first web-based and live-streamed Black LGBTQ+ Pride in the U.S.
There, repeatedly the themes of voting necessity as a form of resistance to increased voter suppression activities, the economic benefits of census participation, and the need to reform the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civl Rights Act to include LGBTQ legal protections in housing, education, employment and public accommodation were seamlessly woven into the fabric of the agency’s four-day event. With less than four months to go until election day, LGBT Detroit intends to increase the beat and insistency of its drum to get LGBTQ+ POC and other often disenfranchised area voters to cast their ballots through mail-in absentee voting measures to protect both residents’ health and vote.
“It’s critical, even in the age of COVID-19, that we allow nothing to impede the democratic process or get in the way of our community’s vote. If that means absentee voting, social distancing and line seating for elders at the polls, or just getting as creative as possible to ensure the Michigan voters’ will is heard and responded to by these candidates, then our partners and we will have done what needed to be done” said Curtis Lipscomb, Executive Director of LGBT Detroit.
Lipscomb added, “In these last few election cycles, I believe Detroiters, and all Michiganders, have learned how crucial the Michigan vote is to make or break what happens politically in this nation. While some may say so goes California, so goes the rest of the nation. I say no, dear, that would be Michigan. So, it’s up to us to know the power we have and act accordingly by showing up on or casting our ballots by Election Day as only those in our great state can.”
To learn more about how to get involved as a volunteer for LGBT Detroit’s Pride Decides 2020, please visit the LGBT Detroit webpages at lgbtdetroit.org/getinvolved.