Oh, what a year it has been. I think we all expected life to get harder when the state turned bright red as a result of the 2010 election. We expected difficult and slow, if any, progress to be made for equality in Michigan. Few of us expected the "Whoa, what is THAT? Is that coming for US? Is ALL of that coming for US?" type of onslaught the gay and transgender community was greeted with this past year.
Our community -- lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people and their allies -- came together in 2011 in response to relentless attacks. We united in a way we haven't seen happen in years, and we fought back -- and hard. We reached beyond our community to engage the faith communities, communities of color, and businesses and taught them to be the advocates they had been waiting to be.
Defense became our middle name. The extremists in the Michigan legislature introduced bills to strip HIV prevention funding, allow discrimination in counseling services, and dictate when a doctor can grant gender reassignment surgery. They fought to keep protections for sexual orientation and gender identity out of anti-bullying legislation and even introduced a bill to outlaw the addition of any discrimination protections for the LGBT community to any non-discrimination policy. We learned to wake up unsurprised by a brand new hurdle. We called our legislators, and then called them again, and then wrote them, and THEN called our governor.
When Lansing's most vocal right-wing hate-mongers succeeded in revoking health insurance for public employees, much of our community sat down, jaws dropped, and pondered the despicable and grotesque state of equality in Michigan. Gov. Snyder had gone against all logic and his own self-proclaimed philosophy for governing when he revoked the coverage, making Michigan antagonistic toward families and destructive of economic development. The "Keep OUT (or leave)!" sign had been hung at the entrance of every city and town with our "moderate" governor's stamp of approval.
When I received word that the governor signed the ban on health care coverage for domestic partners I choked, and then choked up, and then hoped against all hope that we would not lose even one of the fighters that had emerged this year for our cause. I obsessed, and mourned, knowing that it was unreasonable to ask our LGBT families and allies to stay in Michigan. After two days I woke up ready to renew my commitment.
We have a choice. We can use this anger and passion and knowledge of what is just and what is oh so wrong to create energy and moxie where there is little to scrape together -- or we can jump ship. Either makes sense when we think of how best to care for our friends and families in a social and political climate this hostile. I am asking you, if you can risk it, to take that harder path with me. I'm going to ask you to take that path with me as OUT as the day you were born. I like to call myself the "Little Bi Engine that Could." And I CAN, out, but not alone.
In Lansing our elected leaders need to know that we exist and pay taxes and vote. When our leaders know our names, our faces, and our stories they are more likely to consider us among the constituents and colleagues they are accountable to. Studies show that having even one openly gay legislator in public office multiplies chances for progress on equal rights. When legislators know us they are likely to remember us when they vote, or when they are in a position to choose to block ridiculous bigoted policy or let it slip into existence as loud and embarrassingly hate-filled law.
Currently, our legislature does not represent us. Over 65 percent of Michiganders polled are in favor of adding housing and job discrimination protections that cover sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. Over 65 percent polled also favor providing domestic partner health care coverage to all unmarried couples. The extremist lawmakers are the outliers and they are representing the interests of the few and far between. While the outliers are in office we must continue to educate Michigan citizens on the state of equality and we must keep the pressure on our elected officials to make the decisions that represent their entire constituency.
We will lose some of these fights. But with every fight we win or lose the voters will gain a clearer picture of the radical ideology that is being used to harm and banish the gay and transgender community -- and the clearer the picture gets the less likely those legislators will be invited back. We can make it more likely, as a community, that pro-equality and out candidates are voted into office.
At this point, it is impossible not to recognize the terrible insults that the LGBT community faces in Michigan. I have always believed that once you recognize a wrong you become an accessory to injustice if you continue to live in a way that accommodates that wrong. We may not all be safe enough to come out, to run for office, or even to stay in Michigan under these circumstances. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends." Yet, many of us -- gay, transgender and allies -- are choosing silence when our voices and actions could be a part of a movement forward. Without a conscious decision to stay and fight, out loud, I fear our silence could be deafening.
Oh what a day is today. Recommit to equality in 2012.
Emily Dievendorf is the Director of Policy at Equality Michigan, which works to achieve full equality and respect for all people in Michigan regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Find out more at www.equalitymi.org.