Advocacy is important part of community change

Michael Miller

One of our United Way calls to action is “Give. Advocate. Volunteer.” The “give” and “volunteer” concepts are clear, but what does “advocate” consist of?

Advocating is giving voice to issues and concerns that impact your community. It can be at a school board meeting, city council meeting, a public protest or even an email or letter to an elected official.

On May 5, I joined a group of advocates for transgender people, assembled by Equality Ohio, to meet with Rep. John Becker about his plans to submit an Ohio version of the “bathroom bill” that has made headlines from North Carolina.

Ten of us met Becker and one of his aides in a 12th floor conference room in the Riffe Center at 11 a.m. I believe both sides were nervous, but the conversation was measured and stayed on-topic.

Becker insists his legislation is necessary because of Target’s recent affirmation of its bathroom policy, which encourages people to use the restroom they are comfortable with. Becker describes Target’s policy as a “reckless” “threat to public safety.”

The assembled group shared stories of lives touched by transgender issues, striking alternate chords of empathy, hardship, compassion and harsh reality. Becker nodded, took notes, and asked questions about a community he admittedly is just beginning to learn about.

Becker’s proposed bill is unlikely to see the light of day; Gov. John Kasich has spoken against it, no other Ohio congressperson has yet endorsed it and the Department of Justice is waiting with a Title IX hammer if it does get anywhere. But I advocated that even the discussion at a legislative level lends a credibility that is dangerous to transgender people. I told Becker, after emphasizing the fact that there is zero correlation between transgender bathroom choice and sexual assault, “Your bill does not protect anyone who isn’t already in danger from predators, but it opens up an entire population of people to discovery and danger they work very hard to avoid.”

Since the meeting, Becker has told media he intends to continue working on his bill.

But that does not mean our attempts at advocacy failed.

It simply means we must continue speaking up for what we believe is right for our community, state and nation. We must not shy away from controversial issues, but we have a responsibility to be informed and educated on the issues we choose to advocate for. Giving and volunteering are crucial elements of philanthropy. But when you are touched by an issue that impacts your life, remember that using your voice and sharing your thoughts is also an important contribution to our community.

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