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Friday, October 25, 2013

Independent Underground Talks with One Capital Region's LGBT Equality Advocate - Gina Calcagno

Rainbow American flag promoting equality for e...
Rainbow American flag promoting equality for every American. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by IU News & Talk
Head Columnist - Joel M.

On Monday, October 28, Delta Township joined the ranks of 28 other municipalities in the state that protect Michiganders from being fired or denied housing for being – in reality or perception – members of the LGBT community. With Delta Township becoming number 29, the number has risen significantly from a year ago when that number was only 19.

Photo Credit - Gina Calcagno

That’s more than a 50 percent increase.

One of the major forces behind this sudden spike is the One Capital Region campaign, based out of the Greater Lansing area.

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Gina Calcagno, founder of the OCR Campaign, who shared with us why she, along with volunteers in this grassroots organization, have decided to invest so much time and energy into approaching township boards and asking them to pass nondiscrimination ordinances.

Gina traces her involvement back to 2011 when the Republican controlled Michigan legislature decided to pass a ban on any recognition of same-sex partnerships in the state on the part of municipalities or government agencies.
“In 2011, when the legislature passed the domestic partnership benefit ban, it hurt. What hurt even more was the fact that when I personally reached out to my elected officials to ask them how they were planning on voting and told them my story, I got an awful response. My senator said that he didn’t support benefits for ‘roommates’.”

Gina and her partner’s story is like that of many other couples: The two have been together for over ten years and have supported each other through school, moves, job changes, and deaths in the family.

The 2011 ban on recognition of same-sex partnerships has since been overturned and, as mentioned, there has been significant progress for Michigan’s LGBT community in the past year.

This latest victory in Delta Township didn’t come without a fight, however. Even though the final vote by the township council is pretty convincing – a resounding seven to zero – the OCR campaign faced some very vocal opponents, primarily from religious groups.
One person wrote on the OCR’s Facebook page during the Oct. 21 meeting, “Are we at a governmental meeting or church?”
Calcagno pointed out that the OCR campaign has made a point of working with religious organizations in the area.
“Both ordained and lay faith leaders in the Greater Lansing area have signed on to the campaign as supporters. More than 30 ordained faith leaders in the region have signed on. Pastors have testified about the importance of this ordinance on behalf of their communities. More importantly, the people who live in these communities are overwhelmingly supportive of these ordinances.”
At the township board meeting in Meridian, one councilmember – while supportive of the OCR’s aims – questioned the group’s tactics, suggesting that they should follow the example set by efforts to legalize cannabis in Michigan and start a petition to put the question to Michigan voters for approval. The councilman argued that the sheer volume of municipalities across the state – numbering well over 1,000 – makes the tactic of moving from township to township or city to city impractical.

While we haven’t heard back from the OCR for a response to the councilman’s comment, Calcagno did point out that over 20 percent of Michiganders are now covered by nondiscrimination protections.

The One Capital Region isn’t alone in their work; similar groups exist in Battled Creek, Royal Oak, Bay City and Kalamazoo.

One question we had for Calcagno was about youth involvement in the fight for LGBT rights. Although the under 30 crowd overwhelmingly supports LGBT rights, we asked if the aura of inevitability has dissuaded people from becoming involved or whether people might simply give up on the local fight and move away to LGBT friendly locales such as Chicago or the coasts after finishing school.

In her sagacity, Calcagno responded by saying,
“Every time you’re asking someone to take the first step toward action, regardless of their age, you’re going to get some pushback. That’s totally understandable. It’s scary to take the first step towards action and it can be difficult to go out and talk to strangers or pick up the phone. However, it’s the conversations that we’re having now that are going to make progress that much easier to achieve. Community organizers ensure that volunteers are supported all along the way.”
If you would like information about the One Capital Region campaign, follow them on Facebook for information and upcoming events.

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