By Emily Dievendorf
Gil Scott-Heron famously reminded the world in 1970 that “the revolution will not be televised.” He was speaking in support of the civil rights movement as it unfolded in front of him. He was speaking of the movement as inevitable, transient and impossible to ignore. The fight for equal rights for African-Americans had reached a breaking point and the dominos were falling in favor of the black community. The victories came in spurts and not without actual physical casualties and the gradual accumulation of scars of exhaustion, resentment and – over time and after constant battle – a certain amount of apathy.
The apathy that thrives in communities that struggle to gain justice is so very understandable. For many attacked communities, African-Americans included, the battle for equal rights is not over. It is nearly impossible, after years of working to survive, to not conclude that even those that once had an ear to the ground aren’t listening anymore.
Since joining Equality Michigan as Director of Policy a year ago, I have been told repeatedly, with equal sympathy, frustration and resignation, that I am bound to accomplish nothing for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Michigan. My role at Equality Michigan, and my passion, is to win equality for all Michigan citizens through law. I’m only too familiar with government’s inefficiencies, ego and cowardice. In Michigan, LGBT citizens have almost none of the most basic rights that their straight counterparts enjoy. Today’s political climate in Lansing is all the more antagonistic toward our community and resistant to forward movement since the November 2010 election. I’m enraged by the domineering of hate in Michigan. I’m emotionally connected to all of its tragedies. But I am also reassured by the spirit of our LGBT family and excited every minute of every day to use any tools I possess to claim the equal opportunity that we should have access to already. I’m also competitive by nature. The worst thing somebody could do for discrimination in Michigan is to tell me that we can’t succeed.
Michigan courts have done everything in their power to make adoption for gay and lesbian couples an insurmountable challenge. LGBT Michiganders can be fired and denied housing legally in Michigan, with no recourse. Our community, the most targeted by hate crimes and the victims of the most hate-related homicides, lacks inclusion in our state’s hate crimes law.
Our kids are killing themselves, yes, KILLING themselves because they are the number one targets for bias bullying. And even the anti-bullying bills moving through the legislature this session are merely a red herring because they lack the provisions to effectively protect our kids.
You may have heard me say these things before, because I try to shout them to the press, to our legislators and to our communities throughout the state. Sometimes my voice is a little louder and my truth a little sharper than is comfortable for others, but I am relentless for a reason. We do have a voice. The argument for equality can win the logic game every time, it can fill in gaping voids in understanding, it can demand that our elected leaders advocate for their constituencies, it can move giant bigoted mountains. My voice and the voices of other dedicated and driven advocates that are Equality Michigan are completely ineffective without you.
“You will not be able to stay home, brother. You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.”
In my effort to pass better policy I know that Michigan’s LGBT community needs to be awakened to the power of its voice. We need to educate our neighbors and friends. We need to move bigoted mountains. I have seen legislators listen and consider LGBT equality, when every prediction says they won’t, because they are confronted by members of their faith community or communities of color they represent. We may not all have the same access, but the many communities that understand the pain of injustice also carry with them a unique voice and story that can gain ground with different leaders and projects – all toward justice for all.
We sometimes forget that we can ask others to go to bat with us and for us. We can and must open doors for each other. We must activate our broader community to seek justice now and not be daunted by exhaustion. This revolution moves on its own but we determine the speed and nature of the battle when we decide whether to sit on the sidelines or to join in demanding equality from our elected leaders. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated that “a right delayed is a right denied.” Indeed, we have reason to be frustrated because the delay is not just wearing on our patience; it is piling on the injuries. The consistency of the attacks against us makes our fatigue understandable, but it gives us even more reason to push against and ahead – together.
“The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised. The revolution will be no re-run brothers; the revolution will be live.”
Emily Dievendorf is the Director of Policy at Equality Michigan. Find out more about the organization at www.equalitymi.org.