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by Jessica Carreras
Following the announcement of receiving a $500,000 grant from Kalamazoo-based philanthropic group the Arcus Foundation, the Triangle Foundation has elaborated on several plans for the money – including one that should make LGBT west Michiganders very happy.
The ongoing plan, said Triangle Executive Director Alicia Skillman, is to find volunteers to staff the organization’s west Michigan office. “Whether that would just mean a morning a week or a couple of mornings a week, (we want) people who are really dedicated to the work,” Skillman explained. “We have been asking people since Pride and especially when we went to West Michigan Pride and Kalamazoo Pride to see if we could reach people from that particular area.”
The western arm of Triangle has been non-functional since previous director Colette Beighley left for a position as head of the LGBT center at Grand Valley State University. Beighley was the only one to ever hold the position, which lasted around a year and was also funded by Arcus’s gay and lesbian fund.
Since then, Triangle – which has Detroit-based headquarters but touts itself as a statewide organization – has endeavored to maintain a presence on the western side of the state, supporting events, lobbying efforts and local politics in such areas as Lansing, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.
However, some organizers from the area have voiced the opinion that they haven’t done enough. Some even spouted their displeasure on social networking Web sites like Facebook. “I am not happy with how Triangle has been responding to west Michigan,” wrote activist Adam Taylor in May, who heads up LGBT suicide prevention group Project Light. “Kalamazoo Pride cannot get a return phone call from Triangle … Project Light was just flat-out ignored in communications.”
Steven Gerike, who serves as co-chair of the Kalamazoo Alliance for Equality, concurred. “If Triangle wants to truly be a statewide organization, they need to act like one,” he posted. “They act more like a (southeast Michigan) organization.”
Skillman acknowledged that she has received concerned phone calls from activists in west Michigan – albeit very few of them. She said she takes their opinions very seriously. “Just because very few people have contacted me, I don’t take it lightly,” Skillman said. “I believe we need to have a presence in west Michigan and continue to energize and build up the community there.”
However, she noted that Triangle has still participated in local activism and outreach when opportunities have been presented. Moreover, she believes that more could be done on the end of the organizers to create a working bond between themselves and Triangle. “Some of those leaders and activists who have been more vocal, I think they have ulterior motives,” she elaborated. “I think that if they really wanted to be about the work, they would be willing to work with Triangle, but none of them have offered that. None of them have offered to staff the west Michigan office either.”
Skillman went on to say that infighting and Internet bashing of Triangle’s efforts – or possible lack thereof – only hurt the cause further. “I have an open door, I have an open phone line, e-mail – if there’s something going on, please contact me directly so that we can get to the bottom of it,” she insisted. “But it’s really disheartening when all they do is just spout things over the Internet and Facebook.
“They’re bashing, but they’re not trying to be people who have solutions.”
Still, Skillman hopes that the efforts of Triangle to do more on the western side of the state will help to repair some of the animosity felt toward the organization, and to establish a greater presence there.
More specifically, the organization hopes to continue efforts to do outreach and education on LGBT issues and policies for organizations and communities in that area. “If there’s anything that the west Michigan community needs, I want to be able to provide that, or point them in the right direction,” Skillman said. “… There’s lots of great people there who I’ve met recently who have great attitudes who are willing to do the kind of work that we need to get equal rights in Michigan and to protect our community.”