Statement of Support to Kalamazoo Residents

The OutCenter of Southwest Michigan stands with all counter-protestors who participated in anti-racist work this weekend in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Proud Boys organized a march in which about 50 members attended on August 15th, and were met by about 150-200 counter-protestors. Two counter-protests were scheduled throughout the day, one of which was a peaceful vigil organized by the First Congregational Church of Kalamazoo. 

The Proud Boys, founded in 2016 in New York, is a far-right extremist organization that has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC has also declared this hate group a white nationalist group that actively distributes hateful internet content against Muslism, BIPOC citizens, and women. This group instigated violence against both counter-protesters and homeless people in Arcadia Creek Festival Place in Kalamazoo, MI. 

We stand with all protestors who are standing up against systemic racism within our country and at the state level. We understand that it is not our place to tell those who are fighting their own oppression how to fight back, though we recognize and salute the anti-violent and peaceful call to action from Reverend Dannison of the First Congregational Church of Kalamazoo. 

We thank all organizers involved in protesting against white supremacy, systemic racism, and unjust policing practices in Michigan. 

June 2020 SCOTUS Decision

Over 50 years ago, Black and Brown trans women fought back against police brutality and discrimination that too many LGBTQ+ people still face. And now the Supreme Court has ruled that employers can’t fire or otherwise discriminate against LGBTQ+ people in the workplace just because they are LGBTQ+. This will go a long way towards affirming legal protections in education, housing, credit and health care — areas where too many LGBTQ+ people, particularly Black and Brown LGBTQ+, still face discrimination.


We mourn the fact that neither Aimee Stephens, who just died in May, nor Don Zarda, who died in 2014, lived to see this important victory that their struggles paved the way for. One of Aimee’s last wishes was to see the fight to end discrimination continue and we thank her for being a trailblazer and hero.


But there are still critical gaps in our nondiscrimination laws and they impact LGBTQ+ People of Color more so.

Just last week the Trump Administration rolled back section 1557 of the Affordable Cares Act. The new rule will eliminate explicit protections from discrimination based on sex stereotyping and gender identity that have existed under law,thereby sanctioning discrimination against LGBTQ people in health care programs and activities. This is outrageous and will impact the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ people, especially LGBTQ+ people of color! And they did this during a global pandemic and amidst a spike in police brutality against People of Color. The cruelty is beyond measure and the OutCenter of Southwest Michigan is working with local health care systems to ensure they will not sanction discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, especially LGBTQ+ people of color.

What can you do?

  1. No matter your sexual orientation and gender identity, contact you health care providers to let them know where you stand. Then ask them where they stand. Report back to the OutCenter at info@outcenter.org.
  2. Contact your congresswomen/men and let them know where you stand on the rollback. In fact, contact them as many times as possible.
  3. Know where candidates and judges stand on the issue and vote accordingly!

We need Congress to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in health care, public accommodations, federal programs, and more. That’s why we’re calling on Congress to pass the Equality Act.

And we’re also calling on Michigan lawmakers to amend Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

Help us bring equity home to Southwest Michigan!

Presenting #OutCenterAtHome: Live Virtual Programming with OutCenter Leadership & Friends

Stay home. Stay safe. We are, too!

The OutCenter presents #OutCenterAtHome, featuring live programming streamed here at outcenter.org/live and on our Facebook Page. The goal of the virtual programming is to keep our community informed about the shifting virtual offerings of regular programming and groups in a secure environment, while also having great conversations together about how the community can help.

Our most recent as of this writing was Wednesday, April 29 at 9:30am featuring “Coffee with Chris and MJ!”

The first live program from Friday, April 10, introducing you to the OutCenter’s current situation, is located below.

If you’d like to participate in presenting some virtual programming, or you have a question, email us at live@outcenter.org. Consider making a donation to the OutCenter to help us continue great virtual programming during the stay-at-home order while also meeting our continuing operations needs.

COVID-19 Updates

The OutCenter of Southwest Michigan is asking everyone to help stop any spread of COVID-19 across our service area of Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren Counties.

To find important information about this, please visit the Berrien County Health Department’s page about COVID-19.

The staff and Board consider personal health and safety as fundamental characteristics of a vibrant community. We also understand you may have growing concerns about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Please only consult trusted and vetted sources about this virus.

In reports from across the country, LGBTQ+ people also remain more at risk due to these factors:

  • The LGBTQ+ population uses tobacco at rates that are 50% higher than the general population. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that has proven particularly harmful to smokers.
  • The LGBTQ+ population has higher rates of HIV and cancer, which means a greater number of us may have compromised immune systems, leaving us more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections.
  • LGBTQ+ people continue to experience discrimination, unwelcoming attitudes, and lack of understanding from providers and staff in many health care settings, and as a result, many are reluctant to seek medical care except in situations that feel urgent – and perhaps not even then.
  • LGBTQ+ Seniors are a large segment of our community and are at greater risk due to the above factors and their age.

For information from the Fenway Institute regarding Coronavirus, COVID-19, and Considerations for People Living with HIV and LGBTQIA+ People please see this document.

We are closely monitoring updates from the Berrien County Health Department, Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization regarding COVID-19. We will continue to follow guidance from these agencies and public health officials.

Currently, our physical location is closed to the public however, we are still providing ALL the programs and services that our communities have come to expect or even rely on. Our phone number will route you to appropriate staff, the drop-in center will offer a virtual presence, and programs will be hosted remotely.

To join remotely:

  1. Download the Google Hangouts Meet app on your phone or computer.
  2. Then go to the OutCenter website calendar page.
  3. Select “See more details” under the program session scheduled.
  4. Next to “Joining info” select the “https” link and you will be added to the session.
  5. Or without video, simply dial the following number and enter the following PIN and # listed for that session.

NOTE: OutCenter’s Google Hangouts and Meet App are HIPAA Compliant.

Of course as a small non-profit, operationally, we rely entirely on the support of our donors. We understand that during times like these both businesses and individual households are more conservative financially. If you are able to provide support, please do so on our secure platform.

Community Resources Available

River Valley School District Distribution Sites & Times:

  • Trinity Lutheran Church, Sawyer: 11:00 – 11:30 a.m.
  • New Troy Community Center: 11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
  • Galien Township Public Library: 12:30 – 1:00 p.m.
  • Three Oaks Elementary School: 1:15 – 1:45 p.m.

Breakfast and lunch packs will be provided free of charge to anyone, regardless of district, 18 years of age and under; adults pay $1 for breakfast, $2 for lunch. No dine-in; drive-by/pick up only.

In addition, children enrolled in Blessings in a Backpack at River Valley will have access to their weekend food packs each Friday, March 20 through April 3, at the designated River Valley School District meal pick-up locations:

  • Trinity Lutheran Church, Sawyer: 11:00 – 11:30 a.m.
  • New Troy Community Center: 11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
  • Galien Township Public Library: 12:30 – 1:00 p.m.
  • Three Oaks Elementary School: 1:15 – 1:45 p.m.

At each of these locations on Fridays, families may drive up to collect not only the school’s breakfast and lunch packs, but also their Blessings in a Backpack weekend packs.

Please see the food distribution sites for children under the age of 18, as well as individuals with disabilities under the age of 26. Please feel free to share with your clients. I will send any updates as they come in.

Community Curated Support Links*

Financial Help

This is a one-stop site for answers to questions regarding food, financial assistance, unemployment resources, and help to pay utility bills, mortgages, property taxes, condominium association fees, and much more:

Utility Bills

Here is a link for assistance in paying your utility bills.

Food

Do you need help with food?

Feeding America can help. Mobile food pantries for all of western Michigan, including Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren Counties.

Eviction

Are you a renter being evicted? There is help! Visit this site to learn more.

Small Business/Nonprofits

Small businesses and nonprofit entities in Berrien County, Michigan, can find help at the Cornerstone Alliance site.

Rent/Mortgage

Do you need rent or mortgage relief? You can find assistance at Investopedia and MLPP.

LGBTQ

Do you have questions about COVID-19 and how it relates to the LGBTQ community? You can get some insight here.

Mental Health

Mental health questions can be answered here. You can get assistance finding local mental health resources during the pandemic here.

Pets

Do you have questions about your pet and COVID-19? You can find some answers here.

Student Loans

Find answers about paying your federal student loans here.

Personal Loans

Do you need a loan or loan relief? There is helpful information at MAUL and Nerdwallet.

Medication

Do you need help paying for medication? Check out MAT.org

The Elderly

Are you a caregiver for an older person and have concerns about COVID-19? Here are some guidelines.

*Community Curated Support Links were organized by OutCenter volunteers to direct members of the community who need support during the COVID-19 pandemic. The OutCenter has not vetted these resources and listing them on our site is not an endorsement of the publishing organization.

Livery Give Back Night

Event Details:

Happening this Thursday at The Livery! We’ll have drag queens, beer, and an auction featuring a suite of KitchenAid’s 100th Anniversary Queen of Hearts Edition small appliances!

2020 will be one of the most polarizing years in recent memory. SCOTUS will be deciding between now and June whether or not the Civil Rights Act provides LGBT people protection from discrimination. Here at home in Michigan, there is a ballot initiative to amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, to include LGBT people as well.

This set of potential wins for LGBT people will potentially increase hostility towards our community. In preparation, the OutCenter has already positioned itself to build resilient and inclusive communities, especially in rural areas like Southwest Michigan.

Since we’ve launched our “Fund Us Into Our Future” campaign, there has been an increasing number of people who want to know how they can help. On-site will be OutCenter staff as well as new and existing board members to provide additional insights into the progress we’ve made so far, what we have planned, and what you can do to help!

Meet the Performers:

Yolanda Del Fierce

Yolanda is a professional drag queen entertainer featured all over Michigan. She is the current reigning Miss Rumors Professional and has a flare for dance performance. Nicknamed “Kalamazoo’s Dancing Latina,” she brings a little Latin flavor everywhere she goes. Yolanda is an advocate for social justice and works at CARES in Case Management. 

Miss Moscato

Moscato is your current reigning Miss AM Kalamazoo, AM Red Ribbon and your newly crowned Queen of Hearts. She works at CARES as an HIV and STD prevention specialist and uses drag a platform to advocate for LGBT issues. 

Lady Kryptonite

Lady K is inspired by good vibes – she don’t have time for negativity. She gets inspiration from her heart and dreams. One thing to never forget about Lady K is she’s every guys weakness.

Richard NUTsak

Is inspired by the old court jesters, and other performers who dare to just be themselves.

Sapphira

Sapphira is a tire technician by day and a drag queen by night! Her favorite sayings: “A little party never killed nobody!! One day I will be a drag queen who tours the world!!”

The Future of Saint Joseph’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance

With election day approaching this Tuesday, November 5, 2019, the OutCenter sent out a questionnaire to the 6 candidates running for the Saint Joseph City Commission. Those candidates include three incumbents, Jeff Richards, Laura Goos, and Lynn Todman, as well as three challengers, Al DiBrito, Shawn Hill, and Susan Solon. 

Questions asked pertained to the City of Saint Joseph’s newly amended non-discrimination ordinance (NDO), which was passed unanimously in March of 2019, to add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as protections for the LGBTQ+ community, prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

In the interest of transparency and accountability in governance, we are publishing the results prior to the election in order to help educate the voting public about the position of all candidates regarding the non-discrimination ordinance. 


The Questions and Responses:

  • Question:

Understanding that LGBTQ+ Michiganders residing in the City of Saint Joseph were largely unprotected from discrimination, and understanding that the City Commission moved unanimously in March 2019 to adopt a non-discrimination ordinance providing equal protections to LGBTQ+ individuals residing, working, and/or vacationing in the City of Saint Joseph – joining 46 other Michigan cities and towns, and understanding that studies have shown such ordinances benefit the cities and towns that enact them economically, et al., and understanding the City Commission followed protocol to enact said ordinance, would you, if elected to the Saint Joseph City Commission in 2019, support this ordinance, as is, without moving to amend provisions in ways that would erode protections from discrimination and lessen support for equality of LGBTQ+ residents, employees, and visitors of the City of Saint Joseph?

  • Responses by Candidate (listed in alphabetical order):

Al DiBrito: Yes, I will support the ordinance as written. Having said that, I believe I’m the only candidate that has actually investigated civil rights investigations. Although I’ve never investigated an LGBTQ case, as a FBI Special Agent (retired), I have investigated several civil rights investigations to include cross burnings, church fires, excessive use of force and in custody deaths (prison and jail). After reviewing the St Joseph ordinance, I feel I could offer some suggestions that may make the ordinance stronger and close some potential prosecutive and investigative loopholes. Whether I’m elected or not, I’d be more than happy to meet with you and/or your board to discuss.

Jeff Richards: I voted for this ordinance in March 2019.

Laura Goos: As you know, I am a fierce protector of LGBTQ+ rights and will absolutely continue my support of the City of St. Joseph’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance.  Not only does it correct a glaring gap in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, but it sends the message to our community and its visitors that we are a welcoming and inclusive area. I also believe that by leading the way in SW MI, we have allowed the air cover needed for other municipalities to follow suit. This is the right thing to do and I’m proud that I was a part of making it happen.

Lynn Todman: I would!

Shawn Hill: Thank you for the opportunity to comment on your concerns from the LGBTQ+ community. It is not my intention to try and reverse, or amend the action of the Saint Joseph City Commission that extended more protections to the LGBTQ+ community. I believe everyone should be able to live, work and play in the City without fear of threats or intimidation, of any kind, as the result of their beliefs. I have spoken with several people in the community who shared your concerns, and after I explain my desire to simply treat everyone fairly, they simply said thank you and we agreed this is the best course to take.

Susan Solon: If elected, I would uphold this ordinance, as was passed in March 2019 by the St. Joseph City Commission.


Be an educated voter!

The OutCenter, no matter the outcome of this election, continues to educate others up to and including candidates and elected officials. We need Southwest Michigan to be our home, too.

And know that the OutCenter remains steadfast in our efforts to bring people together in all our diversity, create communities that care about everyone equally, and to ensure that Southwest Michigan is a safe place for the more than 10,000 LGBTQ+ people that call it home.

ACLU, Same-Sex Couple Seek to Join Lawsuit to Keep a License to Discriminate Out of Michigan’s Child Welfare System

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 22, 2019
 

CONTACT: Tyler Richard, 646-905-8868, trichard@aclu.org

DETROIT — Kristy and Dana Dumont are prospective foster parents who were turned away from two taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies in 2016 and 2017 because those agencies had a religious objection to accepting same-sex couples. The Dumonts sued the state of Michigan for allowing agencies, like the one that turned them away, to use religious criteria to turn away same-sex couples who could provide families for children. In March of this year, the state of Michigan settled the lawsuit and announced that it will require all agencies with state contracts to comply with non-discrimination requirements and accept all qualified families.

Now, one of the agencies that turned away the Dumonts, St. Vincent Catholic Charities, has sued the state, claiming that the Constitution entitles it to both get a taxpayer-funded contract and be exempt from the state’s requirement to accept all qualified families. Because this lawsuit is a direct attack on the settlement in the Dumonts’ case, the couple, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan, has asked to join the lawsuit.

“With 13,000 children in foster care in Michigan, we can’t afford to have good families cast aside based on religious requirements that have nothing to do with the ability to care for a child,” said Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project. “In settling the lawsuit, the state noted that discrimination in the public foster care system is not only illegal but undermines the state’s goal of finding a home for every child. When agencies choose to accept tax dollars to provide public child welfare services, they must put the needs of the children first.”   

“After the settlement of our lawsuit, we were so thrilled that families like ours seeking to adopt a child from foster care would be judged based on one thing only — our ability to care for a child — and children would not needlessly lose out on families to love and support them,” said Kristy Dumont. “It is distressing that a taxpayer-funded agency is challenging the settlement, claiming that its interests trump the well-being of the children in need of families. We are seeking to participate in this lawsuit to ensure that it doesn’t overturn the important progress made in ending discrimination against families and putting the needs of children first.”

The case, Buck v. Gordon, was filed on April 15 in the Western District of Michigan.

The motion to intervene and related documents can be found here: https://www.aclu.org/cases/buck-v-gordon

This release is available online here: https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/aclu-same-sex-couple-seek-join-lawsuit-keep-license-discriminate-out-michigans-child