By Emily Dievendorf
Advocates get a lot of complaints. As Michigan’s only lobbyist entirely dedicated to gay and transgender rights I routinely don’t make everyone happy. I don’t do enough. I don’t say enough. I don’t say enough the right, most effective way. I’m too blunt and confrontational. I’m too pragmatic and soft. I’m too partisan toward the Democrats. I have too many relationships with Republicans. I’m focusing on the wrong issues or too many issues. I try to help everybody and do everything and weakening my impact by stretching myself thin.
I happen to agree with the last claim and feel it is time to share the responsibility for our equal rights successes and failures in Lansing. I implore you to shape pivotal policy decisions yourself and your way. This time, I’m not pleading for your letters and phone calls. I’m not asking you to march on the state capitol with a giant rainbow flag. While we need all of that, and need to work toward equality from every angle, we also, desperately, need you to run for office.
Part of the reason Michigan has been so slow to make progress is that you are not in public office, out, in your full “I’m a human being with a family who pays taxes and gets sick” glory. PhD Andrew Reynolds, at the University of North Carolina, found a direct correlation between the prevalence of gay or transgender elected officials and the existence of and likelihood of progress toward pro-equality policies. When policy makers, at any level of government, have an openly gay colleague, it is that much harder for them to pass anti-gay policies or stunt progress for equality knowing that their decisions will harm the very real human being they have to face at every city council, county commission, or legislative meeting. Having gay elected leadership in public office provides a much needed voice and perspective, finally illuminating that the gay community has an undeniable stake in nearly every issue. Our presence allows us to advocate to meet our own community’s needs and determine when and how we address them.
You may be assuming you can’t get elected to office if you are out, or if you are in elected office that you can’t get reelected if you come out. You would be wrong. Reynolds found that running for office as an openly gay candidate impacts the margin of your win minimally, and rarely is the factor in the loss of an election.
Our voices and leadership are essential to the success and health of the gay community. A tangible anti-gay sentiment is, right now, not only present but also dangerous and looming over our attempts to provide for our partners and families in even the most basic ways. Many Michiganders have resigned themselves to the conclusion that no progress for equality has a chance until these extremists are kicked out of office. I cannot justify anyone checking out of the movement until November 2012, but it is absolutely correct that without new elected leaders this anti-gay rampage is granted a clear path to continue.
The gay and transgender community, like so many targeted communities, discounted the power of its vote in 2010, and helped to leave all of Michigan with the state government we fear today. We must vote and mobilize others to vote because it is everyone’s duty and the public is on our side. The vast majority of Michigan residents are in favor of equality in employment, housing, and access to health benefits. Our charge today, is to give voters pro-equality and openly gay candidates to vote for.
There is support available, and a wealth of resources for candidates to tap into. The Equality Michigan Action Network and the Equality Michigan Pride PAC are looking for potential candidates to step forward to announce their intention to take office this November. Success for new candidates is only possible if your campaign work starts immediately. Daunted pro-equality candidates with tough primaries need to step forward and ask for help in the approaching couple of weeks. Change happens now and through your concerns, talents, demands, and participation in the political process.
I have no qualms with your complaints. Complaints make advocates and leaders better, keep us working harder, and challenge us to question and measure our approaches to political change for effectiveness. Yet, if you are savvy enough to question my work, I insist that you are also responsible for contributing to its success. Take your complaints, turn them into a plan to help move us forward, work with me from the inside – get off that chair and file for candidacy right now.