As the newest executive director for Equality Michigan
, Emily Dievendorf could easily pack up and move to Detroit, the location of the organization's headquarters.
But, as a lobbyist for Michigan's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, Lansing's central location makes it accessible from anywhere and allows Equality Michigan to be within reach to organize a movement.
Besides the professional perks, Emily says there are many reasons she could "choose to stay in Lansing over and over and over again."
When she looks at the Capital region, she sees a community that is investing in what Lansing can be, not just now, but ten years from now. She sees a diverse group of people who want to not only raise healthy and happy families, but who also have a strong, interesting, and active lifestyle. And, she sees a community that is working to build that kind of lifestyle.
Even as a child, Emily was always drawn to shaping whatever community she was in. Growing up a member of a very diverse community in Kalamazoo, Emily immediately began to notice disparities in her school and among her friends when it came to civil rights. It didn't take her long to start fighting for these rights, starting in elementary school and continuing to do so through high school and into college. While attending MSU she started the first LGBT residential caucus and helped facilitate a race relations student organization.
After joining the world of politics, it's tough to get out, and that's where Emily stayed, soon joining the state legislature. During her time there, she made it very clear that if anything opened up in the LBGT community or race relations, that it would be her job. When a position did
open up with Equality Michigan, someone did think of her. "Luckily, I was very fortunate to have people that believed in me," she says. And she has been the lobbyist for Michigan's LGBT community ever since.
Though lobbyists can be viewed in a negative light and can often be found working for "big business" Emily says, "I am the poor, happy kind." As a lobbyist for the LGBT community she is the person that gets to talk to the legislature about what that community needs. While pushing for the rights of the community, she doesn't get the extra resources many lobbyists get to help make her case, "They have to make their decisions based on how good my argument is."
"I love what I'm doing," she says, "I have absolutely every reason to get up in the morning." Emily says the job is wonderful and exhausting. And looking at all she does, it's no wonder. Equality Michigan is responsible for putting marriage on the ballot for 2016 and she has been attending the most recent marriage trials. While they wait for the verdict, which Emily expects to be appealed again and again, they are trying to amend the state civil rights act because "in Michigan, it's still legal to fire someone for being gay." So, even though it is exhausting, Emily sees the positive; "We are clearly winning these battles, but it's still a long-term fight."
A community of support
One of the major cures for her exhaustion, and one of the chief reasons she remained in Lansing, is her community and her neighbors. She says she has never witnessed a community as committed to each other (though she is sure they are out there) as the people in her Moores Park neighborhood. It is communities like hers that make it so easy for her to stay dedicated to the Lansing area.
During the most recent power outage, it was absolutely no surprise to her how quickly they all rallied to make sure everyone got access to a generator and that those going out of town could get help with their homes. "It's exactly how we would have expected our neighbors to respond."
When she's ready to decompress after saving the world one piece of legislation at a time, she spends her downtime with these same people either drinking wine on someone’s porch, enjoying what she calls local treasures such as The Broad Museum, the Soup Spoon Cafe, Fork in the Road, in Old Town or walking her two dogs in a local park.
Long road ahead
And though all of these things keep her in Lansing, there is another reason she stays in the community and state. "I can't leave until Michigan isn't so messed up."
As a nonprofit, Equality Michigan basically works to put themselves out of a job. But, according to Emily, even though they are making progress, they are going to be needed for a long time to come.
"There are a still a whole lot of rights the LGBT community needs but doesn't have under Michigan law," says Emily. Her ultimate goal is to be a part of making Michigan a place where LGBT families can feel safe and raise families. And right now, it's not there.
"Those that live here can't justify asking their partners to stay with them," she says. "What's best for them and their children is to leave." Emily says that just asking those in the community to stay and fight is asking them to take one for the team.
But, Emily’s community sustains her through the fight, and since she couldn’t imagine doing anything else, she is “eternally grateful” for all the people that help her on a daily basis. Her neighbors not only let her dogs out but also help feed her and she says she “only functions because of everyone else in her life.”
There may be plenty of other communities doing wonderful things, but Lansing is a community that, according to Emily is diverse, and not limited by age or demographics. "There's vision there," she says. It's a community that knows what it wants and works to get it. Emily and her neighbors see a helpful, supportive community with arts and culture, industry, and somewhere they can be multifaceted, happy human beings.
Allison Monroe is a frequent contributor to Capital Gains.
Photos © Dave Trumpie
is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.