LGBT-U Apprentice Q&A: Glenna DeJong in Lansing, MIBy Megan Clayton • August 22, 2016 • 6:28 pm
In 2015, Freedom for All Americans launched LGBT University, an ambitious training and development program for the next wave of campaign leaders. The program is designed to strengthen the movement to win non-discrimination protections for all LGBT Americans. The first cohort, comprising 16 apprentices from all across the country, wraps up the year-long program this fall, and the second cohort heads into its second in-person training event in September in Jacksonville.
Training sessions for LGBT University have included every facet of running public education and political campaigns, including fundraising, field, communications and strategy. Our LGBT-U grads are ready to use the tools they developed at LGBT-U to defeat discriminatory legislation and advance LGBT non-discrimination nationwide in the months and years to come.
Michigan native Glenna DeJong describes herself as an “accidental activist.” Before joining the fight for the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, she worked for 20 years in the nonprofit world developing physical education and nutrition curriculum for K-12 students. The “accidental” part came on March 22, 2014, when Glenna and her partner became the first same-sex couple to marry in Michigan—though that wasn’t their intention. Glenna just wanted to “marry the one I love.” We spoke with her about her apth to LGBT University:
Were you involved in the LGBT organizing space before joining LGBT University?
After 27 years of waiting, I was able to marry the one I love on March 22, 2014. The day before, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman declared Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, allowing a brief window of time for us to marry. We didn’t plan, try or even think about being the first gay couple to officially marry in Michigan—we just happened to get to the courthouse first. In all, 323 couples across the state were married that historic day before the Sixth Circuit issued a stay on the decision. We became members of an exclusive club of couples who could marry, thus beginning my involvement in making this an inclusive club of any same-sex couple who wanted to marry.
We were invited by Equality Michigan to speak at a press conference at Michigan’s capitol days later, asking our governor and attorney general to drop their appeal of the DeBoer decision. Shortly thereafter, I asked our city council to pass a resolution affirming their support of equal rights and opposing the state’s appeal, which they passed that evening. The appeal, of course, was not dropped and we became unofficial spokespersons in Michigan. Media across the state contacted us for comments at every new development.
We soon moved from reactive to proactive, contacting the Michigan ACLU and eventually becoming the named plaintiffs in a lawsuit suing our governor and attorney general for not recognizing the legal marriages that took place on March 22, 2014 — and we won!
In another effort to secure marriage equality, I joined the fundraising committee of the Michigan Marriage Challenge, which became the National Marriage Challenge to support the DeBoer v. Snyder case in Michigan, one of the marriage equality cases heard by SCOTUS. I was successful in raising money in multiple ways, including through a marriage registry and writing a funded grant request to West Shore AWARE.
Why did you apply to join the LGBT-U program?
My volunteer involvement in the marriage equality movement in Michigan was deeply fulfilling and sparked a passion to continue the fight for full LGBT equality. Following the roadmap to victory envisioned and pursued by Freedom to Marry, Freedom for all Americans has a proven strategy to build public support and win comprehensive protections at the federal, state and local levels. I simply want to be part of the Freedom for All Americans winning campaign. I want to do work I love, with people who are passionate, for an outcome that is long overdue. LGBT-U provides the perfect opportunity to hone my skills, build on the experience I’ve gained working on marriage equality, and master new skills to be a contributing member of this civil rights movement.
Why do you think it’s important to fight for LGBT non-discrimination protections nationwide?
Winning marriage equality was only the beginning – and it, in fact, sparked a backlash against the LGBT community. We’ve seen the introduction and passage of RFRA-type bills and laws. I no longer am willing to sit back and accept discrimination.
What is one thing you’re looking forward to learning from LGBT-U?
The Apprenticeship Program of LGBT-U not only affords me the opportunity to hone my existing skills for use in the arena of LGBT civil rights, but to gain valuable new skills. I’m particularly interested in lobbying and business engagement.
I look forward to learning from the best minds in the movement! I understand the training in much more than merely learning about issues—it’s developing the actual skills to be successful through hands-on experiences. As an instructional designer, I love this approach.
What have been some of your favorite parts of LGBT-U so far?
I’m really impressed by both the staff and my fellow apprentices in our cohort.
The FFAA staff has an unbelievable collective resume. It includes notable leaders in the LGBT equality movement who have worked on marriage equality and LGBT non-discrimination issues. I’m moved that they are so willing to share their expertise and work so closely with our cohort – who, by the way, is also a very impressive group!
What’s something that’s surprised you or that you’ve learned that has been especially interesting or helpful?
I particularly liked the messaging session. I learned immediately useful ways to speak about LGBT nondiscrimination in the most appropriate and effective manner. I was able to use what I learned in April when speaking to my local city council and my state legislator.