LGBT-U Apprentice Q&A: David Topping from Lincoln Park, MIBy Adam Polaski • February 10, 2016 • 2:04 pm
One of Freedom for All Americans’ flagship programs is LGBT University, a training program dedicated to strengthening the movement to win non-discrimination protections for all LGBT Americans. LGBT-U is an ambitious training and development program for the next wave of campaign leaders, and in just a few weeks, members of the first cohort and second cohort will convene in Philadelphia for the second week-long training, following the first convening during the fall of 2015 in Phoenix. The first cohort, comprised of 16 apprentices from all across the country, is rapidly coming up on the end of their year-long training, and in that time, apprentices have examined nearly every facet of running public education and political campaigns – from fundraising to field to communications to strategy.
One of the LGBT-U apprentices in the first cohort was David Topping, who has many years of experience organizing around LGBT issues. We spoke with David about his previous experience with LGBT organizing, what attracted him about the LGBT University program, and why people should care about the fight to move non-discrimination forward.
Can you tell us about some of your experiences organizing around LGBT issues?
I’ve been doing work around LGBT non-discrimination since 2009. My first LGBT campaign was as a field organizer for a campaign in Kalamazoo, Michigan – which is on the other side of the state from where I grew up, in Lincoln Park, Michigan. I went to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, and when I got the opportunity to work on a ballot campaign to uphold a non-discrimination ordinance, I jumped on it. I worked on that throughout the summer, and we wound up winning. I’ve been doing non-discrimination work since then, with a few other experiences thrown in, including a race for a state representative and a local county coordinated campaign and my time at the Kalamazoo Gay Lesbian Resource Center. Some of these experiences have been as a college student, and others were more as a professional non-discrimination organizer – and now, I work as the field director of Competitive Arizona.
How did you hear about the LGBT University program, and what prompted you to apply?
Well, a friend of mine forwarded the application over to me, saying she was doing it and that I should apply, too. Working on non-discrimination is the kind of work that really fulfills me, and it’s an issue that’s really important to me. It’s all-encompassing for the LGBT movement – impacting everyone across the board. It’s about allowing people to live their lives to the fullest, without discrimination.
LGBT University was a good way for me to hone my skills – and also, because I’ve popped around to a bunch of states, working on non-discrimination campaigns, it was a good chance for me to get connected with the LGBT movement nationally.
I was really pleasantly surprised with what we did at our first convening of LGBT University in Phoenix. I learned so much about the history of the movement – and the modeling piece was super interesting. I loved looking at the polling modeling and seeing the impact of data on these campaigns and how that helps move us forward.
Why is it so important that the LGBT movement work so hard on the fight for LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination protections?
This is the next frontier in LGBT work. For a long time, it’s been really important, but it’s never had the momentum that marriage equality had. Non-discrimination impacts every single LGBT person across the board. It can give them the kind of protection that they desperately need.
When I do this work, I think about the kids in the youth group I used to run. These kids live in Michigan, in a state that doesn’t have protections for them – a state that has passed many anti-LGBT laws over the years. And despite the huge groundswell of support we’ve seen in Michigan, there are no protections.
This kind of work is how we provide a better future for those kids – a better future for the movement. It gives them a legal recourse, a real tool with which people can handle discrimination. At the end of the day, this is the most important issue to me because it provides an outlet to get justice that people deserve. It provides protections for people and it improves their lives, overall.