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BTL has learned that Equality Michigan’s Executive Director, Denise Brogan-Kator, has resigned effective May 4 and that the organization is in serious financial trouble. Given the importance of the upcoming 2012 election cycle, we are particularly dismayed and disappointed that our statewide political organization has run into such a desperate situation that the executive director has left and the viability of the organization is in doubt.
Gays and transgendered people are in deep trouble in Michigan. The Republicans control all three branches of state government and the radical right-wing of the GOP has hijacked the agenda. Since Republicans seized control last year, gays and transgender people have experienced an onslaught of repressive, heinous legislative attacks – from stripping health benefits from same-sex partners of public employees to an effort to invalidate local ordinances that protect LGBT people in about a dozen Michigan cities.
We could invest ink and column inches on how angry, unhappy and frustrated we are, pointing fingers at the board and management team for incompetence. Suffice it to say, in the last five years Equality Michigan has gone through a merger, four executive directors and hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Arcus Foundation – and now finds itself incapacitated by a financials crisis when we need them most for a critical political season.
“When written in Chinese the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters – one represents danger the other represents opportunity,”
wrote John F. Kennedy in 1959. So let’s step back and explore what good can come from this crisis.
We ask that all the stakeholders use this current situation as an opportunity to rethink the structure of our Michigan LGBT movement and its organizations. We call on them to consider a plan that would incorporate most of the LGBT movement in Michigan under one umbrella, thereby reducing overhead and management costs, maximizing return on our collective money and talent investments and increasing accountability, stability and transparency.
The work at Equality Michigan needs to continue. It operates in three key program areas – lobbying, field organizing and victim services.
We think it makes sense for Equality Michigan’s political programs – the lobbying and the field work – to transfer into the political non-profit part of Affirmations (the 501(c)(4) arm) which was set up a few years ago to do a voter engagement project, but that is now dormant. The boards of Affirmations and Equality Michigan can combine their resources and skill sets to raise money for both the social services side and the political advocacy side, and the staffs of both can collaborate closely on mobilization and volunteerism. One organization – one voice – one machine with several moving parts that focuses on meeting the social service and political needs of the whole LGBT community.
Affirmations recently led an effort to organize all the community centers across Michigan into a statewide coalition. A statewide political lobbying and field organizing project, housed within the organizational structure of an umbrella coalition, could tap into that community center network. Political engagement, volunteerism and direct action would increase, our lobbyists would have a stronger base from which to speak to legislators, and more resources would be devoted to the actual work instead of the organizational overhead that comes with multiple management teams and boards of directors.
The victim advocacy project at Equality Michigan is a social service project that we think would be best housed within a social service agency (501(c)(3) organization), such as the Ruth Ellis Center, Affirmations or Kick! The project could continue to report hate crime statistics so our lobbyists have the data to argue for better legislation.
Last year BTL reported on an organizational and financial crisis at Affirmations. This year it is Equality Michigan. We say enough. If these tough economic times have taught us anything it is that we must pool resources. Let’s have one strong organization rather than several fragmented groups that swing in and out of crisis mode. Get all the paid staffs working together towards common goals and have a united board of directors that understands that their job is to garner financial resources for sustained, effective, collaborative work.
We are not naive enough to think this would be easy. It will require talent, leadership, compassion, intelligence, grit and patience to unite under one umbrella. But it is time that we do just that, and we should do it quickly. Equality Michigan’s talented program staff – the lobbyist, field organizer and victim advocates – must continue their work and build on the meaningful progress they have made over the past two years.
The stakes are too high, the needs too great and the consequences too dire if we allow ourselves to continue in the current mode of operation. Let’s all rise to this occasion, build something great together and make Michigan a better place to live.