After living in South Carolina and San Francisco, journalist and University alum Kerry Eleveld realized that civil rights for LGBT people were moving on a slow track.
And in Washington D.C., Eleveld saw that the fight for LGBT equality in legislation would be even harder.
“I actually thought that getting some of the LGBT issues moving was going to be easier than it was, and I thought it would move faster than it did,” Eleveld said. “After a few months of being (in Washington D.C.) I realized that this was going to be a tough slog.”
Eleveld returned to her alma mater last night to speak to students about her firsthand experiences in the world of Washington politics and the contemporary progressive movement. In MSA Chambers in the Michigan Union surrounded by about 20 antendees, Eleveld discussed LGBT rights, which she said have not made enough headway in the nation’s capital.
Washington is “way behind” in LGBT equality perspectives, Eleveld said, more so than the American public because politicians are reluctant to make radical changes and distinguish themselves as leaders in LGBT rights.
However, the reluctance of politicians to stand up for LGBT rights alone doesn’t characterize issues of the contemporary progressive movement, Eleved said. Environmentalism, social justices and reproductive rights are a few facets of the movement that haven’t been adequately addressed in American politics either, she said.
Eleveld contrasted journalists’ pursuit of the truth to politicians, whose campaign promises are influenced by which groups provide them the most funding, she said.
“Our Washington advocates or organizations are not getting the job done,” Eleveld said. “The individual activists are the ones holding our government accountable.”
However, the LGBT community is taking strides to educate and motivate citizens whether they’re in Washington D.C. or on the Diag, Eleveld said. Shedding light on shadowed issues isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible, she added. Eleveld noted the repeal of the U.S. Military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy — which banned gays from openly serving in the military — as one of the several achievements LGBT activists have made in the last 18 months.
“There’s a long way to go, but I feel like the past year and a half has been incredibly significant,” she said.
Helen Fox, professor of human rights in the University’s Residential College, said before yesterday’s forum, she thought LGBT issues were easy to address in the media and in politics. However, after the discussion, she gained an understanding of the challenges facing the LGBT community and the progressive movement.
“(Eleveld) really showed how these issues take a tremendous amount of work, and not only work, but knowledgeable activism,” Fox said.
She added that while the millennial generation is extremely progressive, students can still do more to make greater social impacts.
“(Students should) delve into the reasons for the problems that we see in the world, exactly the kinds of changes we would like to see and what it would take to see a different world,” Fox said.
LSA junior Ethan Hahn, chair of the Michigan Student Assembly’s LGBT Issues Commission — which sponsored the event — said he would also like to see changes in student activism and involvement.
“I see fear of getting involved,” Hahn said. “Someone who is not affiliated with our community might not want to advocate for rights because they don’t want to be perceived as part of our community.”