How the first openly non-binary candidate for the Michigan State House of Representatives thinks we can achieve fairness

While she and other white allies were painting an outdoor mural the summer of George Floyd’s murder, Lansing resident Emily Dievendorf was struck head-on by a white supremacist on a motorcycle. At that moment something became painfully clear for the Democratic candidate for the Michigan 77.the State House District: The need for safe spaces and spaces for learning and connection in your community. Then Dievendorf sold his house and, with a friend The Shawn Erbyopened a non-profit bookstore, The resistancenear the Michigan Capitol building dedicated to social justice and movement building.

“As a civil rights advocate and someone who works on how all these issues come together, I knew it was necessary for all of us to work on our own biases,” Dievendorf told Pride Source. “Dialogue between us was necessary. I’ve never had money, and I’ve always done well with it. So when I sold my house, I had money for the first time in my life, I went from owning a house to renting it, and I decided to put that money into a space that I saw available in a historic building.”

Now the bookstore is a place where people of all ages affected by oppression can find accurate stories and representations of their own stories.

Dievendorf did not predict that running for the state House would be part of his own story. In fact, he said “never again” after a failed run for city council in 2015. Despite that, he again answers a call from the community about him.

“I entered the race late,” said Dievendorf, who announced his race in March, “after learning that the two people who had already entered the race hadn’t been in the community very long.” Dievendorf has lived in Lansing since he was 18 years old. “It was important to me that there was someone in the race who had been working on the ground alongside our most vulnerable communities, and who wanted to represent the community, not as ‘a voice for the community,’ but committed to working collaboratively with our communities most affected by oppression to develop solutions.”

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True to the grassroots approach that led to her stunning 25-vote victory in the primary election, despite being outscored nearly five to one and lacking the support of Lansing pundits, Dievendorf relies on input from future constituents to shape the district’s agenda. .

“My top priorities, determined by people in my own community, are centered around very basic needs, but they are also incredibly justice-oriented,” Dievendorf said. “What I have noticed is that people still do not have access to a living wage; people still do not have access to housing; people still don’t have access to security.”

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Dievendorf also believes in reforming the justice system, which he says still houses many people for marijuana-related offenses who are now no longer prosecuted after legalization legislation went into effect. He is also concerned about the lack of parameters for excessive use of force by police officers.

“There is so much room for a fairness and accountability lens in public policy,” Dievendorf said, “and I think if we start looking at all levels of how we write policy, that fairness will naturally fall into place.”

At 43, Dievendorf has a proven track record in the state of Michigan as an advocate for social justice, evidenced by her public policy work to Michigan Equality and the Lansing Human Rights Association (LADH). He gained early experience working for two representatives in the state legislature, which coupled with work in the nonprofit sector suggests that Dievendorf is particularly savvy when it comes to Lansing politics. Looking at it from both sides, he too would like to see a change in the Democratic Party.

“Being a more progressive candidate is already something that sets me apart,” said Dievendorf, who has worked on bills in the House and Senate and stopped negative legislation. “Being a more progressive candidate and legislator who understands how the system works will help all of us who want to make a difference for those who are vulnerable in Michigan. And that means ensuring that the Democratic Party can also become strategically more progressive over time, and ideally, the sooner the better. It will not be a comfortable change for everyone. But it is the necessary change.”

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Dievendorf herself would represent a change, as Michigan’s first non-binary state representative. And like any trailblazer, she has experienced bumps and bumps along the way, experiences that she says were expected.

“Of course, it’s something that happens with our friends and colleagues in ways that they don’t know about,” Dievendorf said, referring to homophobia and transphobia, “and also from those people who have gut reactions to us in an open and full of anger way.” hatred. it’s the world Before winning the primary, these reactions arose in the form of stereotypes, assumptions and rumours”.

From experience, Dievendorf said he’s learned when it’s best to have a conversation in the face of hate and when that will only add to the negativity. She called it frustrating and hurtful. As a public figure, Dievendorf said that she has been receiving hate messages for 20 years. And though she sometimes tells people that she doesn’t faze her, “you know she fazes you,” she said.

For that reason, Dievendorf said the queer community needs to support each other. More than anything, she believes that queer voices are vital.

“It is necessary for us as queer people, LGBTQIA people, to be there representing Michigan, because we are Michigan. We have to be the ones who make our own politics, who make the politics related to the issues that impact us. But also, Michigan residents need to be able to see us and know we exist. They need to get to know us as neighbors and friends, and our colleagues need to get to know us, because that’s a big chunk of people overcoming their own biases.”

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Dievendorf said it’s especially risky right now for LGBTQ+ candidates because of how openly and proudly hate is expressed. But, she said, she and others knew what they were getting into. Dievendorf has her eyes focused on the needs of her community.

“We were going to make changes for our communities and other communities affected by prejudice. But we also moved into positions where we were going to be ensconced and almost on display and available to people who didn’t like anyone like us, and also to get to know us better as human beings. And over time, that can make a big difference for the better. It can also be very dangerous for us. Overall though, it can make an incredible difference because it can lead to life-changing public policy.”

The work can be intense, but for Dievendorf it’s not about 24/7 politics. His hobbies are many and varied. She is proud to be “a big science nerd” and she owns several digital microscopes. As a budding entomologist, Dievendorf has a particular interest in cicadas. She does animal rehabilitation. Ella skateboarding longboard And of course, there are her books.

“Yes, I am someone who is curious about everything,” Dievendorf confessed. “I own a bookstore, so I read everything. There are stacks of books on every surface in my house. My great-grandmother, who is no longer with us, was a socialist. I remember when I was little, her house was full of stacked books, even in the fireplace, and when he was little, I would say: ‘Yes, this is my person’”.