By Denise Brogan-Kator
“Eye on Equality”
As the newly appointed Executive Director of Equality Michigan, I want to share some of my thoughts about where we are as a movement and where we are headed. The need for a frank discussion about this was brought home for me in a recent town hall meeting in Detroit, where we had a meaningful conversation about our work. We heard some tough questions – including those about our apparent lack of progress in years past.
It often seems that our march toward equality in Michigan is moving at a snail’s pace (and, sometimes, even retreating). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens lack statewide protection against discrimination; efforts to enact a comprehensive anti-bullying law have gone nowhere fast; and even public employers who want to provide the same benefits to both gay and straight employees are under attack. In some parts of our state, hate still lingers – including in the halls of our Capitol. It’s understandably frustrating that we appear to have so little to show for all the years of activism.
But now is not the time to sound retreat. Now is not the time to turn our backs and quit the fight for justice and equality. On my Facebook page, I have a quote from Pirkei Avot: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” History is on our side, and we must push forward, no matter how much resistance we encounter.
In fact, if you look beneath the surface, you will see that we truly have made tremendous progress. We have experienced a sea change in public opinion. A significant majority of Michiganders now think that job, housing, and public accommodation discrimination against LGBT people is wrong. That wasn’t the case in the recent past. Just a few short years ago, our primary concern was whether or not the police would even investigate the rampant violence directed toward us, much less protect us from it. We now have a working relationship with the FBI to investigate attacks as violations of federal hate crimes law. The recent attack in Grand Rapids against a guest of our event is being seriously investigated by police.
Opinion, faith and law enforcement leaders are now stepping up to decry hate and violence against LGBT people. The media is now helping to dispel the myths and hurtful stereotypes that foster hate. We continue to work with journalists to encourage more accurate and inclusive coverage of LGBT issues.
This progress has come because of people like you and me who did not give up. The pioneering activists who came before us worked relentlessly to increase safety and awareness in our state. Every one of us who has come out, and every ally who has spoken up for us, has changed the hearts and minds of our neighbors. These personal connections are a key ingredient in broader policy change.
Another key to ending entrenched discrimination is collective action. At Equality Michigan, we’re using a multi-faceted approach to strengthen the movement’s capacity. In collaboration with other organizations – ACLU of Michigan, Affirmations, KICK, Ruth Ellis Center, and the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion – we are hosting over a dozen town hall meetings to coordinate action to update Michigan’s civil rights law. We are also working collaboratively with grass-tops and grass-roots activists around the state who are pushing for local nondiscrimination ordinances to provide some measure of protection until we can finally get state law updated.
New York recently provided us with an example of how sustained and collaborative political organizing can win big. We are following the same path. Equality Michigan is committed to building a broad coalition of pro-equality activists. Some of our work will be slow and quiet as we move toward a 2012 election that will bring more pro-equality candidates into office. Some of it will be fast and focused as we ask you to hold current lawmakers accountable when they make decisions that affect our community, such as anti-bullying legislation and domestic partner benefits. You’ve already witnessed some of the successes that we’ve been able to achieve together, like fighting back the legislature’s attempt to repeal benefits for unmarried partners of state workers.
You’ve already seen big changes in your equality organization – we’re more active, transparent, inclusive, and truly statewide. You’ve already seen a change in how we communicate – with more focus and intentionality. Stay tuned and you’ll hear about more ways to bring your skills to the table. We look forward to working with you, and we are confident that together we can achieve strategic and meaningful victories.
Just don’t stop believin.’