Super Ally' Tashawna Gill Is Building Bridges for LGBTQ+ Detroiters

Tashawna Gill, an ally, calls LGBT Detroit 'home'

When Tashawna Gill paused our interview to take a call from Lansing, it didn’t faze me. I knew Gill was simply conducting official business for LGBT Detroit Mobilization, where she’s served as field director since the 2022 election cycle. Using her vast political network in the service of the queer community is all in a day’s work — a day that often begins by 5 a.m.

“I am the political arm of LGBT Detroit,” explained Gill, distinguishing the 501c3 LGBT Detroit from LGBT Detroit Mobilization, a 501c4 launched at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. “I run the endorsements. I’m the connection to Lansing, to really strengthen the political power for the LGBT community.”

With a career spent behind the scenes getting folks elected, Gill, an ally, is currently tasked with organizing to advance the political interests of LGBTQ+ people in Detroit and Southeast Michigan.

Nzere Kwabena, executive director of LGBT Detroit, calls Gill “a super ally.”“She built these relationships,” Kwabena said about Gill's ability to build bridges between political candidates and voters. “It was because of her.” He said LGBT Detroit Mobilization identifies candidates and political leaders to endorse who are interested in the needs of the growing LGBTQ+ community.

Gill first became acquainted with LGBT Detroit and Kwabena when she attended a political meeting shortly before joining the Gretchen Whitmer for Governor campaign in 2017 as a regional political and field director.

“As soon as I walked through the door, it just felt like home,” Gill recalled. “It just felt like everybody was welcomed. Nzere was amazing. The team was amazing. It just was the most comforting, safe feeling that I ever felt. And I'm not LGBT.” Gill derided what she called “stupid stereotypes” about LGBTQ+ people.

At that meeting, the politically savvy Gill immediately recognized the power of the LGBTQ+ vote. She remembers telling the group, “I don't think y'all know how much power you guys actually have.” But it would be several years before Gill was ready to leave her Lansing-based work.

“I knew there was space for her,” Kwabena said, “and I felt that she literally wanted to contribute to the mission. I found somebody very interested in our ability to express our interest to people who are either seeking office or are elected officials. And so when I first met her, I thought we had someone who was a strong ally and able to open the door for us.”

“We're happy that she brings this incredible energy and excitement to the company,” he added. “And I'm glad she chose us.”

Not only is Gill known for her role in Gov. Whitmer’s election, she also served on the campaigns of Mayor Mike Duggan, Councilmember Jewell Jones (Inkster), Garlin Gilchrist for Detroit City Clerk and, in 2016, Hillary Clinton for President. And when Gill wasn’t campaigning, she was creating political organizations like United Precinct Delegates (UPD), which harness political power at the grassroots level.

UPD began with Gill’s political mentors “forcing” her to become a precinct delegate before she really understood their role. She found many were in the same boat. Eager to learn, Gill educated herself. Then she and others saw an opportunity: They would teach a class. “Leadership was against this, totally against this,” Gill said. With little help, they offered a free class to 20 people. The next one drew a standing-room-only crowd of 120.

“I believe knowledge is everything,” Gill said. “I believe knowledge should be free. People hold back knowledge to have complete control and to emphasize power. But the greatest thing that I find about power is pouring into other people.” She compared it to sowing seeds.

“It's quite the opposite of what people think about leadership,” Gill continued. “Leadership should be pouring into people and empowering people, not holding people down. So, any group that I have created is, if you look at the mission, it's all about empowering.”

In 2019, Gill was recognized by Gov. Whitmer for her work founding United Precinct Delegates and Women for Michigan United. Whitmer commended Gill’s “strong work ethic and high efficiency” as well as her “professional excellence and meritorious work.”

Gill speaks often of her mentors. Attorney and political strategist Bruce Sullivan Feaster was like family; he called Gill his niece. It was Feaster who bestowed on Gill the moniker “Political Princess.” After he passed away, she embraced the name.

“[Feaster] called me ‘The Princess’ and he educated me,” Gill said. “He called me every morning. That's probably why I wake up so early. He called me every morning at 5 o'clock to educate me on people that I don't even know in politics around the state, which I used when I helped the governor win her first election. I try to honor that name every day by working my butt off to do a good job.”

By all accounts, Gill is a natural leader. “I lead with grace and kindness,” she said. Perhaps Gill learned that from her mother, a special education teacher where Gill attended elementary school. “I am my mother’s daughter," Gill said.

It was during those grade school years that Gill met her best friend, a lesbian who was bullied at school and who at first bullied Gill. Instead of retaliating, she befriended her bully. They remain close to this day.

As a longtime ally, Gill is frustrated by the persistent stereotypes plaguing the queer community. “People don't understand that the LGBT community are people,” Gill said. “They all want the same things as us.”

In particular, she said, it’s been her experience that the older Black community is more socially conservative due to the influence of the church. Gill addresses that challenge head on by holding events at “our home,” as she calls the LGBT Detroit facility on Greenfield Road.

“Once people come into this home like I did, they will leave feeling something totally different,” Gill said with confidence. “It happened every single time. We would pack the house for all different types of races, creeds. People who didn't think they wanted to come, but they come and they just leave with a different aspect, and it changes their mindset.

“They become allies and advocates and all of these things — and it is amazing what happens.”