Calhoun County

Take the Equity Challenge: Understand issues of LGBTQIA+ in Calhoun County and beyond

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Calhoun County series.
Inequities and discrimination in housing and employment are among many issues that continue to impact the quality of life for individuals who identify as members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, + (LGBTQIA+) community, says Jen Hsu-Bishop, Chief Equity Officer for the United Way of South Central Michigan (UWSCM).
This is the focus of the latest in the UWSCM Challenge series which began as the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge.
“Research shows us that communities holding a marginalized identity often experience disparities which makes it more challenging to achieve economic justice,” Hsu-Bishop says. “We want to leverage our efforts in the community and beyond. This Challenge is a place of co-learning for community members. We’ve had folks across the country sign up for these Challenges.”
This is the first time that the LGBTQIA+ Challenge has been offered by the UWSCM. It began on Monday (October 2). It is available virtually and is self-led. Those who want to participate can register on the UWSCM website.
Participants will receive one email each weekday that features videos, articles, podcasts, and discussion questions on topics including the history and impacts of discrimination towards the LGBTQIA+ population and how it shapes the lives of people in the communities served by UWSCMI while inspiring participants with resources and tools to build social equity in their work and lives, according to information on the website.
The Racial Equity Challenge is modeled after the 21-Day Race Equity Challenge developed by Dr. Eddie Moore Jr., Debby Irving, and Dr. Marguerite Penick and adapted for the United Way network by United Way of Washtenaw County.
The UWSCM adapted it several years ago and in the last few years Hsu-Bishop, whose pronouns are They/Them, says the organization began to broaden it to encompass areas including disability equity and LGBTQIA+ equity.
Jen Hsu-Bishop, Chief Equity Officer for United Way of South Central Michigan“We continue to be led by and center in the voices of community members. They let us know what opportunities there are to be in community with folks,” they say. “What I have witnessed is that anytime organizations provide support or co-lead, it’s important to have centering voices of community members. What we’re hearing is that discrimination and oppression continue to operate at multiple levels so that people are not able to show up in community as their full, authentic selves and how they experience healthcare or housing. Folks are experiencing inequity at multiple levels. It isn’t just the unkind statements we see day to day. We see that showing up in larger kinds of policy work either intentionally or not.”
This centering has been in the UWSCM’s six-county footprint. Residents in these counties indicated that they wanted to continue to learn about individuals in their communities who identify as LGBTQIA+ and the challenges they face, Hsu-Bishop says. The UWSCM worked with Outfront Kalamazoo to develop content for the Challenge.
People who identify as LGBTQIA+ continue to experience obstacles to economic security and housing and it was “a natural fit to expand to an LGBTQIA+ Equity Challenge to make sure folks know how better to support and advocate with LGBTQIA+ individuals in our communities.”
Carving out even a few minutes a day for 21 days to learn more about something they may know very little or nothing about is a challenge, says Kim Langridge, Co-President of Battle Creek Pride.
“Perhaps that’s why it’s called a challenge,” she says.
Change doesn’t happen when you snap your fingers, says Langridge, who identifies as transgender.
“It’s a process to change people’s thoughts and opinions about what LGBTQIA+ life is,” she says.
Among the stereotypes she has encountered about how some people view the transgender community are that “we’re all groomers, we’re using the wrong bathrooms or we’re all drag queens.”
Much of this misinformation is perpetuated by conservative media, she says.
“It’s surprising how so many people have this stereotypical view of LGBTQIA+ people,” Langridge says. “That’s the reality, but that doesn’t reflect real life.”
Kim Laingridge, Battle Creek Pride Co-PresidentThe LGBTQIA+ Equity Challenge is an opportunity to counteract these false and misleading narratives.
“What our partners in the community have highlighted is there still continues to be employment and housing discrimination,” Hsu-Bishop says. “In the state of Michigan, we did not have statewide state-level protections until the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act was amended.”
In March, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Senate Bill 4 which expands the 1976 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) to protect against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
“We know that the impacts of economic mobility are largely represented by individuals who are in the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) population,” Hsu-Bishop says, adding that those who identify as LGBTQIA+ are part of the ALICE population. “We’ve come alongside and supported public policy initiatives in some spaces. We’re still developing public policy initiatives and an agenda and aligning our ALICE equity work to our agenda.”

The UWSCMI, they says, is committed to meeting every individual where they are and ensuring that every ALICE household is supported and able to access what they need to be able to live a thriving life.
Although ALICE research doesn’t have specific data related to the LGBTQIA+ community, information gleaned from self-reporting and national data demonstrates that a disproportionate number of LGBTQIA+ individuals are living at or below the federal poverty level, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
A key factor to rising above the ALICE threshold for ALICE households is the ability to secure a steady income, Hsu-Bishop says.
“Based on what our partners and advocates are sharing with us and the data they’re highlighting, the ability to get out of ALICE depends on having access to healthcare, employment, and housing,” Psu-Bishop says.
Langridge says part of this effort involves an understanding of the difference between equity and equality, something that challenges her.

“Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome,” according to Marin Health and Human Services
“A lot of us in the LGBTQIA+ community are working from behind in these areas,” she says, adding that the Challenge is a start to giving people the fuller picture and a better understanding of the problems and situations impacting the daily lives of the LGBTQIA+ community.
As with each of the UWSCM’s Equity Challenges, this latest one is focused on creating a deeper understanding of the history of the LGBTQIA+ community and the inequality in certain areas.
“For all of our equity challenges we are particularly aware of the impacts marginalization and oppression have on folks' ability to get what they need to maintain stability in their lives,” Hsu-Bishop says. “The Challenge gives folks the tools and a basic understanding of concepts to support friends and family who are LGBTQIA+.”

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Read more articles by Jane Parikh.

Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.