Marshall Kilgore couldn’t make it to Motor City Pride this year. Instead, the 22-year-old candidate for Kalamazoo city commission stayed close to home, juggling work, family and campaign responsibilities. Kilgore was still able to celebrate Pride, though: As director of advocacy for the OutFront Kalamazoo LGBTQ+ community center, Kilgore organized and attended the center’s inaugural Rally for Equality at Bronson Park that Saturday.
“I love being the director of advocacy,” Kilgore said. “And this is what I [get to] do for a living: give people resources, make sure folks feel supported, make sure they know they have not only a listening ear but someone who will advocate for them to live more comfortably here in Kalamazoo in southwest Michigan.” And while he may not earn “millions of dollars” working for a nonprofit organization, Kilgore feels fortunate that he’s able to be a community advocate from 9 to 5.
Now, Kilgore seeks to advocate not only for the local LGBTQ+ community but for all 76,000-plus residents of Kalamazoo. And even though he graduated fairly recently from Kalamazoo’s Western Michigan University — with a degree in political science — Kilgore believes he has the credentials to run a substantive campaign. Certainly, there’s the experience gleaned through his day job, but he currently serves as vice chair for the Kalamazoo County Democratic Party, as well. He was also a deputy field organizer in his region for Gretchen Whitmer’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign. Additionally, Kilgore got his feet wet last year when he ran for trustee of the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Education.
For as long as he can remember, Kilgore has been interested in politics. As a Black and queer person, he said he’s found that being political is a “necessity.” Kilgore said he’s always been very conscious of what was really important to people like him. “It’s always been on my mind,” he said.
Kilgore said he’s running for city commission because “We’ve got a lot of work to do still in our community.” He spoke of safeguarding marginalized groups, “whether it be people of color, BIPOC folks, whether it be queer folks… we’ve got to elevate the resources for all folks within southwest Michigan and within Kalamazoo.” He said he’s ready to be a voice for the people, and he’s got the “guts and gusto” to step up, even when acknowledging that some issues are unpopular, including what Kilgore says is the silent epidemic of trans women of color who have gone missing in Kalamazoo.
Another issue Kilgore wants to shine a light on is environmental racism. Tackling it is one of Kilgore’s top priorities if elected. A prime example is the poor air quality associated with a high incidence of asthma in certain areas.
“If you’re in the nicer neighborhoods or the ones with better income, you’re sort of safeguarded from that,” Kilgore said. “But if you’re on the north side or if you’re in areas with lower income… you’re [potentially] experiencing asthma symptoms that you never experienced or you would have probably never encountered if a factory or a company that’s just letting out junk into the air moves down the street from you.”
Kilgore also spoke of the need for “revamping and revitalizing” the city. Likewise, he envisions a Kalamazoo for everyone: “Everyone should be able to live here, work here and play here and feel fulfilled,” Kilgore said.
His ability to build coalitions and serve as a unifier will serve Kilgore well on the nine-member city commission, he believes. That’s directly related to his familiarity with often finding himself in the minority.
“I think that’s been a lifelong experience for me,” Kilgore said. “Being a Black bisexual male, often there was no other choice but to work with people who weren’t like me.” He gave as an example his own experience in higher education, where Black males are among the least likely to graduate.
Today, one of the reasons Kilgore wants a seat on the city commission is to provide representation for people like him — the same reason he ran for school board last year. At the time, he got some pushback. He heard news that some people thought he might “brainwash” children.
“I was stepping up to lead in a pandemic, to follow the science, to get more social workers and less policemen in our schools,” Kilgore explained. “Making sure…our students were involved in the summer and that they could stay up [-to-date] with reading and math and science.”
LGBTQ+ representation was one of the reasons Kilgore ran for school board. Instead, he found some people more concerned with his personal life than with policy.
Kilgore described the “static and distance” he experienced having members of the community and community leaders encouraging his run for office, “but then in the back of your mind you have this not completely negative experience — but a pretty rough one — of people putting just who you were born to be right on the line and saying that’s a disqualifier,” he said.
Since then, Kilgore has learned not to read the comments after media coverage. He made an exception during June Pride Month when community members were reaching out with support.
It’s clear that Kilgore loves Kalamazoo and plans to stay. Not surprisingly, what he says he loves most about his city is its diversity. It’s more like a salad than a melting pot, he said. It’s a place where people of all different backgrounds can come together while remaining their own unique selves.
“I truly do believe that the residents of Kalamazoo…my neighbors, really do value diversity,” Kilgore said. “And when you value something, you take care of it, you support it, and you contribute to it. And that is somewhere where I think all folks in Michigan should want to live, right? We should really be pressing for that in every single community. But to already have it cultivated here, it’s just such an amazing thing.”