The Road Ahead

BY STEPH WHITE

I know a lot of you are worried about the recent election and what this means for all of us in the LGBTQ movement. Many people are rightly concerned about the rights that we've fought so hard for and won over the past eight years. After all, we are coming to a close on the most pro-LGBT presidential administration this country has ever seen.

There's no doubt that things are going to change, and I can't say that it will all be OK. But what I can say is that Equality Michigan will be here to continue to fight for the rights and dignity of every gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer person in Michigan. We will do what we've always done - work with you all to serve our community and fight for our rights.

First and foremost, if anyone in our community is experiencing violence and harassment, our Department of Victim Services is ready to support them in getting justice. In fact, we've already expanded this year and added resources to this work. We've added a new position to respond to the critical needs of the trans community, we've established regular officer hours in Grand Rapids and Traverse City so we can be available when and where our community needs us and, just recently, we got another $10,000 gift to bolster that department further. But even beyond responding to assaults, we've been working proactively with federal law enforcement agencies since last summer in partnership with Muslim leaders to address our common threats of violence. We all know that we are stronger when we work together.

Next, we will continue to be the eyes and ears of our community in Lansing. With your help we will defeat any attempt to roll back our hard-earned rights just as successfully as we've done throughout this past year. And, with our allies on both sides of the aisle, we will continue to push for civil rights protections for gay and transgender people. We won't stop demanding and expecting full equality under the law.

And if Washington DC and Lansing won't meet our needs right away, we will make a path forward. Sometimes LGBTQ people face setbacks in our progress, but when we do, we keep fighting and we find a way to make progress. There are hundreds of fearless local leaders in cities and towns, on school boards, and in county governments all over the state who want to protect marginalized people. We'll keep partnering with them to advance the local protections that can make the difference in peoples' lives.

Perhaps most importantly, we will stay in relationship with everyone who has the power to impact our lives and our rights. In fact, we will build bridges to new communities and to new people who don't know us and don't understand the realities of our lives. A year ago, I laid out a vision for how the movement for LGBTQ equality can win our rights that included the work to build relationships with both political parties. At that time, I wrote: "There's an old adage in politics: 'There are no permanent allies and no permanent enemies. Just permanent interests.' Today in Michigan's movement for LGBT rights, that couldn't be more accurate. Historically we have been much more successful expanding our legal rights with the help of our Democratic friends. And too often, we've had to fight Republican enemies who demonize us. But of course, neither party is homogenous and we see people evolving every day.

"Winning equality requires us to become more nuanced in working with lawmakers of both political parties. This isn't easy to do, especially in a highly polarizing presidential election year, but it can be done."

Our award for Greg McNeilly, which has been controversial, has been part of this strategy. To be clear, we're not endorsing the educational philosophy of the DeVos family and we don't agree with Greg on everything. But he's been an important and powerful ally in helping reach segments of our state that have been resistant to us. If ever there was a way to bridge the gap between the LGBTQ community and the conservatives in Michigan, Greg is that bridge and we celebrate his courage to engage in this work with us.

Today, with Republicans poised to control not only every branch of our state government, but our federal government as well, this work takes on even greater urgency. When people don't know us, they make up myths and use those myths to cause us harm. As Harvey Milk implored us to come out, we have to keep coming out and building more relationships.

The more people know us, the less they see us as a threat. And as people begin to take baby steps towards us, we will celebrate their progress. We'll accept those minor wins and add them up to build major progress.

And lastly, if we find that government at any level is failing to live up to our country's promise of equal rights, with your help, we will hold them accountable for the decisions that they make. Together we will speak out, we will mobilize our community and we will respond. Just as we did when Sen. Casperson tried to introduce a North Carolina-style "bathroom bill," and that was quickly defeated.

As I look forward to the next years ahead, I know there will be challenges, but one thing that gives us all strength is the depth and breadth of our movement. The network of leadership in our community is smarter, more sophisticated and bigger than ever and we are in this together.

Steph White is the executive director at Equality Michigan. Contact her at swhite@equalitymi.org.
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