As the world continues to learn more about coronavirus and its spread, it's vital to stay up-to-date on the latest developments. However, it's also important to make sure that the information being distributed is from credible sources. To that end, Between The Lines has compiled, [...]
After a career dedicated to social justice through organizations and causes like the Women’s March, WC Safe, the YWCA and more, last month Nicole Denson earned what she called a “dream job” when she was hired on as the director of victim services at Equality Michigan. She said that EQMI’s LGBTQ-focus enables her not only to aid survivors of sexual assault, intimate partner violence and human trafficking, but it provide a welcoming space for her clients and herself, too.
“The wonderful thing about here is that it puts our community first and makes sure that we’re being recognized and have safety, support and advocacy,” she said. “People don’t understand that a lot of times when we go to seek help, we end up teaching or having to teach people before we can even get services. So that’s why I love that we get to know everybody on an individual basis, and … that [clients] don’t have to train us to do our job to help.”
Equality Michigan is a nonprofit that works to defend LGBTQ rights like marriage equality, protect against discriminatory religious exemptions against the LGBTQ community, and it serves victims of anti-LGBTQ bias crimes. In her role, Denson will focus largely on connecting with clients on a one-on-one basis. She said that what initially attracted her to the role was the opportunity to connect with LGBTQ people of all walks of life across the state.
“I love the fact that Equality Michigan has a voice in many different parts of Michigan. We have pop-up sites in Traverse City to help survivors of crime, Bay City, Grand Rapids and Holland. So one of the things that interested me is that I wanted to know how to serve survivors in rural areas as much as I know how to serve survivors of trauma in areas like Detroit and Metro Detroit,” Denson said. “I want to know how to make Michigan better for all of the LGBT population and people who experience discrimination and hate crimes as a whole.”
At the time of Denson’s interview with BTL last month, she said that only a few days into her role she already saw calls from community members who were refused medical care because of their sexual orientation or gender identity on religious grounds. She foresees that religious exemptions like these are what EQMI will begin to see more of in the coming months.
“And that’s why we’re doing what we can do to work with legislation. We’re also working with Fair and Equal Michigan. And so, even though my task is victim services, a lot of times it’s going to intertwine, because I see it from the micro, from when it impacts the person, but we have people like our executive director [Erin Knott] who is going to get the report from us and go out into the community, and in particular to the capitol, like with the [push for] Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act [expansion].”
Because of unforeseen coronavirus concerns, at this juncture, EQMI advocates are working to connect with their clients remotely and send out care packages to help combat the spread of infection — particularly among LGBTQ people who are statistically at a higher risk to contract the virus. However, Denson said that won’t stop the organization from doing its work. In fact, she said that a priority for her as she steps into her new position is to focus on removing the isolation that many LGBTQ people feel when they are detached from specific resources. She said attending EQMI’s youth camp in Traverse City.
“Every time I go up there it does help me learn the difference between LGBT groups and people in Detroit and LGBT youth in the surrounding rest of the state of Michigan. They do discuss a lot of isolation, discrimination, depression and anxiety. I think there’s a commonality of feeling like they don’t belong in either place, but I feel like down here we do have a better sense of LGBT community,” she said, adding that even so, isolation can be felt in anywhere.
When asked if she could see any specific programmatic change occurring, Denson said she hopes that EQMI can work to provide more means for LGBTQ community members around Michigan to share their own experiences in safe, affirming spaces.
“… I’m hoping through storytelling, through narration [we can do that],” she said. “We’re trying to see how we can services that aren’t just funded by the government. We want to see if we can have community awareness and maybe storytelling [programs put in place] in the future.”
Because after all, creating environments across Michigan where both LGBTQ and allied members of the community can cohesively interact is EQMI’s ultimate goal.
“[We make] a space where you can talk to people who know the ins and outs of who you are in your entirety, in particular being LGBT,” Denson said.