In 1993, it was a daring move to have an engagement announcement in The Ann Arbor News. We were the first lesbian couple to do so. The process made us both very nervous, yet the response was overwhelmingly positive. When the first person ran up to me to say “I just saw you in the paper, congratulations!”, I didn’t know what to say. So I simply said “Thank you.” I kept saying Thank You for 6 months! That was my first exposure to what it might feel like for our relationship, our family, to be accepted.
At that ceremony, we legally took the name Bashert (meaning “destined, meant to be”). Both of us took the same last name, no hyphening, a new family name for both of us. My theory was that having the same last name means family to the world. Since our relationship did not have legal status, we would “trick the enemy” into realizing we were family.
When we filed to legally change our name, the paperwork had 2 options. One was for an individual name-change, the second was for a family name-change. I stubbornly decided that we should be able to use the family process. When I submitted for the name change, the conversation was something like this:
Beth: I would like to have my spouse and I change our name
Clerk: Unrelated adults cannot use the family process
Beth: I don’t understand, Lisa and I are spouses with a domestic partner status…
Clerk: Unrelated adults cannot…
Beth: I don’t understand…
Clerk: Unrelated adults…
Beth: I don’t understand…
I eventually “didn’t understand” my way into the judge’s chambers where he patiently explained to me the legal definition of family, which didn’t include ours. We made our point, submitted to the process, and legally became Basherts in 1993, our fifth year of being a couple.
125 people came to our “wedding” ceremony at the Unitarian Church in Ann Arbor. Lisa wrote a special “Call to Community,” a call-and-response statement that asked everyone to repeat aloud all the ways in which they, as our community, would provide the support our relationship would not receive from the legal system. We end that amazing day with a potluck reception in the church basement.
Two years later, at the Pride March in Lansing, I was stunned to hear a Bishop with the Metropolitan Community Church use our Call to Community at a mass wedding I had produced for the March! I found out he had taken it from a book of services for LGBT people. Somehow, our Call to Community had floated around being used again and again until it ended up being included by a priest in his book.
Shortly after that, it became possible for me to adopt our daughter, Lisa’s child through a brief heterosexual marriage. Our daughter was 11 at the time. Today, she is 33 and a mother herself. She and her husband chose to live in our neighborhood, making Lisa and I the happiest and proudest parents and grandmothers you can possibly imagine.
In 1993, the adoption process was terrible, but it was possible and meant so much to us that we undertook it. It still is terrible, and I am sad and proud of all the couples who have chosen to go through it for their family.
First, we had to ask her father to give up all his legal rights permanently. This, of course, was a difficult thing to ask of him. He had to trust that we would continue to support his relationship with our daughter. He also had to value my role as one of her primary parents. Obviously, he agreed. And I am forever grateful to him.
Secondly, Lisa also had to temporarily give up all of her legal rights to our daughter, give her up to the state. Not an entity that we trusted much, then or now. Following that step, the state gave her legally to Catholic Social Services, another organization that we were not prone to trusting. Lastly, Lisa and I together could adopt her.
As I sat in court in between both of them, and Judge Francis read all the legal rights they were both signing away, I felt sure that one of them would change their mind. I also thought my head would pop off with tension. Neither happened. Later, I shrunk down a copy of the adoption certificate, laminated it, and carried it my wallet for years.
For years, as other states have legalized marriage for same sex couples, I have stubbornly refused to travel to get married. I greatly respect the many couples who have done this. The legal and social privileges marriage brings are vitally important to every couple. Lisa and I have been painfully aware of the risks we were taking by not taking these opportunities.
For me, it feels too much like my state would turn us into fugitives if we went to another state to get married. Michigan is our home. It is Michigan’s job to give us the right to marry, damn it!
So when the window opened up March 22, Lisa and I jumped through it. The night the ruling came through, we were having dinner with a group of neighbors who are truly our closest friends in many ways. Social media was blowing up, and we didn’t know until later in the evening if we would be able to get the marriage license on the next day, a Saturday.
As soon as the news came through that our county clerk Larry Kestenbaum would open the Clerk’s Office to allow us to get a license, everything kicked into high gear. Judge Nancy Francis (who had performed our adoption) contacted us to see if she could marry us. Our friends contacted the Mayor of Ypsilanti to see if he would marry us on short notice. One of our friends offered to have our wedding at their home, on 12 hours’ notice!
In the end, the Mayor married us, along with a Rabbi. Some important highlights that I will always remember:
— While we were waiting in line to get our license, all of our friends were decorating the house, cooking food, chilling champagne and beer, and waiting.
— 90 people came with literally no notice. You couldn’t park in our neighborhood, and they all carried in food, beverages, something to contribute to the day. Dozens of neighbors walked over to attend.
— A neighbor knocked on the door while preparations were going on and asked if we needed a wedding cake. She not only brought us a wedding cake she had decorated, but also her family’s 100-year-old wedding knife for us to cut it with.
— Our friend allowed us to use her chuppah (wedding canopy), something we had not had in 1993.
— The local brew pub sent staff to the house with the beer for the day. Our neighbor who owns it said she was crying with joy for us.
— Jim Toy came to our wedding, he is the first out gay man in Michigan and is an important part our history.
— Larry Kestenbaum, our county clerk, came to our wedding.
— 3 city council people were there, as well as the current and future mayors of Ypsilanti.
— Mayor Schreiber cancelled his plan to visit his ailing father to marry us.
We waited for 5 hours at the County Clerk’s Office to get the marriage license. Our daughter and her husband stood with us, even though she was 8 months pregnant! Other friends and family came with us. I was overwhelmed with seeing all the couples, and the straight allies who stood together that day. I will struggle for years to describe the excitement and joy of that day.
In 1997, an act of discrimination occurred in Ypsilanti when a local print shop returned a print job it had already accepted from an LGBT EMU group, raffle tickets for a ‘Halt the Hate’ rally. The students went to city hall to investigate how this fit in with our local non-discrimination ordinance. Lo and Behold, we did not have one at all!
What followed were months of ‘hearings’ with the newly formed Human Rights Commission, who eventually ruled that no discrimination had taken place. Thankfully, our city council unanimously overruled that mistake, and passed an inclusive non-discrimination ordinance later that year. By the way, Ypsilanti is one of the first cities in the state (ahead of Ann Arbor) to include protection based on Gender Identity.
By then, political committees were formed on each side of the issue, and the anti-gay committee successfully submitted enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot. I was unemployed and highly vocal, and soon found myself as one of the campaign co-chairs along with Paul Heaton. Our 100% volunteer driven campaign should have lost, based on what was happening around the country in similar campaigns. Instead, we won by the largest margin (12 points) since Anita Bryant had taken her hate message to the country.
In 2002, the anti gay groups came back to our city. This time they tried to amend our city charter to exclude any protection for gay, lesbian, or bi-sexual people (actual language). This time, I was privileged to co-chair the campaign with Lisa Zuber, who had been the volunteer coordinator for the 1998 campaign. We won by an amazing 63-37%!!!!!
Both campaigns were considered textbook examples of how to run a LGBT campaign and are in fact used in a textbook by Amy Stone, mentioned on the sidebar here.
Serving as Campaign Co-Chair for the “Keep Ypsi Rolling” campaign to maintain buses and public transportation for Ypsilanti, I successfully helped pass a millage, in an anti-tax environment, to keep public transportation in place. Our city has a significant population who relies on buses; this millage is and was key to them, and all of us.
As Campaign Manager for LGBT candidate for Ypsilanti mayor, Amanda Edmonds, I helped achieve a landslide, 64% victory for my candidate.
I led the Save Ypsi Yes campaign for a city income tax (which did not succeed).
I served as founding President for the Advance Ypsi PAC.
I was an ongoing consultant for the Ypsilanti mayoral campaigns of Paul Schreiber.
In 1999, a small group of politically-minded people from around the state started a conversation that resulted in Michigan Equality. I was selected as the founding President. We formed a complex organization with a specific goal: A 501(c3), 501(c4), and a PAC designed to identify, educate and mobilize voters to help further equality for LGBT people in Michigan. Some of what we accomplished with me as President included:
–A diverse and strong board of directors.
–In our first year, we were one of the 50 largest PACs in Michigan.
–Had a diverse funding base from grantees, large donors, and small donors.
–Moved to a professional staff in 2 years’ time.
–Initiated voter ID projects around the state, beginning the long process of building a base of voters.
–Served as a consultant for 9 other cities in 1998, including Kalamazoo, Traverse City, Grand Ledge, Ferndale, Royal Oak, Huntington Woods, Saugatuck/Douglas.
Fund Development Director for Shelter Association. This is one of the best programs around for homeless adults, offering not just shelter, but programs and coordination for a population that is not easily sympathized with. This was one of the biggest challenges we faced, helping donors see homeless adults as humans in need. Some of what I accomplished here included:
–Publishing a book, which was a photo essay of homeless people, used as both a fund raising and educational tool.
–Coordinated a new website, and developed a virtual tour of the Delonis Center, the new building we were constructing at the time.
–Instituted a volunteer program, still in place, to have churches and organizations sponsor nights at the shelter. This relieved staff and allowed them to work on programs rather than dorm management, involved the community in our work, and built bridges that still exist to this day.
I utilized these skills to help youth in my own LGBT community when I was hired as the Ruth Ellis Center’s first Fund Development Director. In my inaugural year, I helped raise $100K, founded two strong development committees, began planning our first FD events, added events for the homeless youth, and increased our visibility both in the state and the nation.
As NARAL professional organizer for State of Michigan, a 2-year grant-funded project, I initiated a program to record lies and deceit in bogus clinics that offer “free pregnancy help” to women but which are actually designed to keep them from considering abortion or birth control. As a car sales professional, I have won awards from the Sales Awards Society in 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013. I am proud to work at Dunning Toyota (a woman-owned family business), the state’s first LEED-certified dealership, selling the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the market.
I am not an angel. I have made people angry, pushed too hard, jumped too soon, acted too quickly, stepped on toes. I am unwilling to fail. When I believe I am on the right track, I will not bend or stop. I will do what it takes to win. I have put my life on hold, missed important time with our daughter and my spouse, and given up income in pursuit of some of these goals.
I have also developed leaders, taught others how to do what I do, lived my life by my values as much as possible. I truly believe that every victory, every step forward described here is the result of many, many people, not just myself. I have been honored to work with a wide variety of people, volunteers and leaders, throughout all of my life. Each of them has taught me something, and made possible the life that we enjoy today.