LGBT-U Apprentice Q&A: Regina Calcagno in Grand Ledge, MI

By Adam Polaski • February 4, 2016 • 2:09 pm

Last year, Freedom for All Americans launched a new program designed to strengthen the movement to win non-discrimination protections for all LGBT Americans: LGBT University, an ambitious training and development program for the next wave of campaign leaders. The first cohort, comprised of 16 apprentices from all across the country, is nearly halfway through the year-long training, which convened for the first time last fall in Phoenix, Arizona for training sessions and informational overviews about every facet of running public education and political campaigns – from fundraising to field to communications to strategy.

Applications for the second cohort of LGBT University are now open until Sunday, February 7, 2016. Learn more – and apply – here. 

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One of the LGBT-U apprentices in the first cohort was Regina Calcagno, who has a long history of organizing within the LGBT community in Michigan, where she’s lived for several years. We spoke with Regina about her previous experiences organizing for LGBT non-discrimination protections, how LGBT University is helping to further her training, and why non-discrimination is an important next step for the movement.

You’ve had so many years of experience organizing to push the LGBT movement forward, especially where you live now, in Michigan. Can you describe some of those experiences?

Most recently I served as campaign manager for Michigan for Marriage, a public education campaign designed to advance the freedom to marry here in Michigan. Before that, I worked with a coalition of groups working to pass local non-discrimination ordinances in our state – Unity Michigan. We were really working to spread the number of local ordinances in the state of Michigan, since we don’t have statewide protections yet.

I worked in public education and ran the field efforts in the Lansing area. East Lansing was the first city in the nation to have non-discrimination protections, and that’s something the city really prides itself on. But when you drive down one main street, Michigan Avenue, on your way from East Lansing to Lansing, there were literally gaps in the protections. So we were trying to make it more uniform.

I also worked with the One Royal Oak campaign team – the city of Royal Oak had passed a non-discrimination ordinance, and we were working to protect the ordinance. We did so successfully, and that was very rewarding.

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With so much experience already in organizing for LGBT non-discrimination, what drew you to LGBT University? 

Well, if anyone says that they know everything about this issue, I would immediately call shenanigans. You have people who have been working on this issue for decades and are still learning about it. So when LGBT University was announced and I saw how many organizations were involved, I realized this was an opportunity to learn from some of the best minds in the movement and some of the most integral individuals and organizations – not just in terms of marriage work, but also non-discrimination and other areas like bullying and conversion therapy. Who wants to pass up an opportunity to learn from the best?

How did LGBT University differ from your other experiences directly engaging with the fight for non-discrimination protections?

Well, I really appreciated the depth of the issues that we got into with LGBT University. I’ve worked on these campaigns, and I’ve talked about these issues – but a lot of the conversations I’ve had were very much introductions to the issues – and they’ve focused heavily on how these issues are dealt with specifically in Michigan.

With LGBT-U, it wasn’t just that I was learning from trainers from all parts of the country, but we were also able to dig around and get to the meat of the issues. We didn’t just talk about the messaging points (although we did learn them). We were picking apart how these strategies would work in our communities and understand how they’re implemented in other communities. Having this bubble where you can learn a skill and really take the time to apply it in a safe space and talk about it and see and hear how it’s worked in other communities has been fascinating to me.

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Your LGBT-U cohort was quite varied – ranging from people with lots of LGBT organizing experience to no experience, with a broad range of ages and geographic areas. How did that enrich this experience for you?

Everyone was able to not just get more information and learn from the program – we were able to learn from each other. Apprentices were applying skills from other areas outside of the movement politics, and that really helped us understand things in a different way and get a fresh perspective. Having people from all walks of life and all career paths really helped break that up.

“There is no program I can think of that is going to give you as much as LGBT University will give you in a week.” – Regina Calcagno

There is no program I can think of that is going to give you as much as LGBT University will give you in a week. I walked out of that week in Phoenix just absolutely exhausted because of how much I had learned, but also completely reinvigorated and ready to work on the next steps for the movement – to really move LGBT equality and justice forward.

Why is it important for us as a movement to work on advancing LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination protections nationwide?

For me, I don’t think I realized how important the issue of non-discrimination is until I moved from a state that had protections to a state that has no protections. All of the states I lived in before living in Michigan had non-discrimination based on sexual orientation – New York, New Jersey, Illinois. I moved to Michigan, though, and realized there were no statewide protections. And I’ve seen and talked to so many people who have experienced discrimination firsthand. I have transgender friends and colleagues who have been turned down for jobs or kicked out of restaurants – basically all of the things that folks point to and say, “This doesn’t happen.”

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If we can make life easier for people to go about their lives and be more secure in themselves, then that’s fantastic. And if the work I’m doing can make the state of Michigan better on the whole, that’s even better. For me, this work has been really transformative for me as a person and has helped me understand where I fit in Michigan – and where I want the state to go.

Click here to learn more about LGBT University – and apply for the second cohort here before February 7.


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