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Victory Looks Different In State
Defense For Now, Maybe Progress Later
Originally printed 1/3/2013 (Issue 2101 - Between The Lines News)
Sometimes it's the winning that knocks you on your arse.
The 2012 election made clear, with the election of our first out lesbian U.S. Senator in Tammy Baldwin and our first out bisexual U.S. Congressperson in Kyrsten Sinema, the re-election of pro-equality President of the United States Barack Obama, a three state approval of marriage equality, one state's defeat of a ban on equal marriage, and the victories here in Michigan of the majority of the pro-equality candidates endorsed by the Equality Michigan Pride PAC that the country is ready to embrace the kind of change that will bring fairness to LGBT families. Nationally, we knew by the November election, that the gay community had reached the mountaintop and that shifts in policy are soon to follow.
Michigan, on the ground, is also ready. We have learned in the last year that a majority of Michiganders is in favor of marriage equality, the final frontier, for the first time in our state's history. Seniors and communities of color also poll in favor of fairness in housing and employment for the gay and transgender community. Young Christian evangelicals are supportive of equality and consider it a non-issue.
In Michigan government, however, the picture has been less than rosy. By this year's lame duck session, drafted and ready for action by the legislature were bills to allow discrimination condoning the denial of counseling services, the denial of adoption placements to the over 5,000 Michigan foster children eligible for homes, and the denial of medical services - all if based on any strongly held religious belief or moral conviction. There were also bills to restrict non-discrimination policies from being altered to provide protections for new categories (read: the gay and transgender) and one bill to restrict public dollars from being spent on gender reassignment surgery. We had experienced quite the couple of years and on Dec. 14, at 4:35 a.m., after fighting for our lives without pause, the gavel would finally come down.
Halfway through that last night of the 2011-2012 legislative session advocates and lobbyists started hearing rumors that the bills to allow discrimination in adoption and healthcare based on a religious belief or moral conviction would not be voted on and would be dead by the end of the night - unable to reach the governor's desk. Buried. I could not expect a victory based on national trends as much as those trends signal reason for hope. Michigan is a different animal. Our leadership's priorities have not reflected the will of the people for the last two years. It should be no surprise that after two years of accumulated bills written purely with the intent to harm Michigan's gay and transgender families that I would not believe I could leave my post in the Capitol as it was looking hopeful. For the gay community victory remains a unicorn until it actually happens and it has to. The gay community has been told lies before.
In the end, the bills that would have meant magnified disarray to our already suffering LGBT community were not included in the night's sneaky carnage. The House floor emptied, the other lobbyists in the House gallery shuffled out and I sat there, stiff and stared ahead. A friend from the Senate had positioned himself next to me, congratulated me, and assured me it was over for now and that we had won. I was shocked. It wasn't that I had even once succumbed to the notion of losing. Rather, I couldn't get used to the idea of being able to stop, even for a minute, scrapping. I protested for a long minute, looked at him, welled up, let the tears absorb, and with some hesitation accepted VICTORY.
How did we win in this political climate - in a state where almost unlimited power is exploited without consideration of the human beings its haphazard wielding harms? Answer: Together, with help, and without assumptions. We admitted that the gay community as an insulated entity could not win.
The gay community has learned how to stop just talking and start acting on the behalf of ourselves and others. In absence of power in governance, we have come together as a community and with our allies to use our voices and our spotlights. If all we can do is bring glaring attention to offensive and sloppy attempts to harm Michiganders we are happy to provide the service and we do it well, garnering the attention of the national media which is always happy to help us point out the embarrassing void of democracy that Michigan has become. This is not trickiness or games, this is accountability. You see, our responsibility as citizens has never been restricted to the ballot box, where too many of us are already voluntarily absent. It is at the doors, on the phones, and in the email boxes of our elected leaders sharing our expectations and dissenting at the mismanagement of resources in response to our needs. When the bills to discriminate in adoption services were scheduled for committee, Equality Michigan put out the call for your voices and more than 12,000 of you answered. By the time the adoption bills were referred to the House they were never heard from again.
In 2013, we must expect more of the same. We need to be unsurprised to see "religious beliefs or moral convictions" inserted into any bill and we need to be ready to bring the absurdity of such legislation to the discussion at everybody's dinner table nationwide. We need to commit to keeping a watchful eye on our leaders and calling them out on bad decisions. We need to invest, as our opponents do, in the cultivation of leadership that WILL represent us. We need to acknowledge that we are not the only vulnerable community under attack and be ready to put Martin Luther King Jr's "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" mantra into action. We, as a community need to acknowledge and announce that we are also women, workers, and voters who can choose to find better leaders willing to represent ALL constituents in 2014.
Victory looks different in Michigan. Michigan's current victories come from good defense and if we continue to hold the line at some point the direction we move will be forward. We need to keep WINNING.Emily Dievendorf is Director of Policy for Equality Michigan. To learn more about Equality Michigan, go to http://www.EqualityMI.org. Learn more about the lame duck session for the 2011-2012 legislative session at http://gaybe.am/y4
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