How Michigan State House’s first openly non-binary candidate 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 hit head-on by a white supremacist on a motorcycle. At that point, something became painfully clear for Michigan’s 77 Democratic nominee.e State House District: the need for safe spaces and spaces for learning and connection in its community. Dievendorf therefore sold his house and, together with a friend The Shawn Erbyopened a non-profit bookstore, Resistancenear the Michigan Capitol building dedicated to social justice and movement building.
“As a civil rights activist and someone who works on how all of these issues come together, I knew there was a need for all of us to work on our own biases,” Dievendorf told Pride Source. “Dialogue between us was necessary. I had never had any money, and I always liked it. So when I sold my house, I had money for the first time in my life, and I went from owning a house to renting and I decided to put that money in a space 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 a representation of their own stories.
Dievendorf hadn’t predicted that showing up at State House would be part of his own story. In fact, she said “never again” after an unsuccessful bid for city council in 2015. Despite this, she is once again answering a call from her community.
“I came late into the race,” 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 for very long at all. ” Dievendorf has lived in Lansing since he was 18. “It was important to me that there was someone in the race who had worked 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.
True to the grassroots approach that led to his astonishing 25-vote primary victory — despite a nearly five-to-one overrun and lack of support from Lansing insiders — Dievendorf relies on input from would-be voters to shape the district agenda.
“My top priorities, as determined by people in my own community, focus on very basic needs, but are also incredibly justice-focused,” Dievendorf said. “What I noticed is that people still don’t have access to a living wage; people still do not have access to housing; people still don’t have access to security.
Dievendorf also believes in overhauling the justice system, which she says still houses many people for marijuana-related crimes who are no longer prosecuted after the legalization legislation took effect. It is also concerned about the absence of parameters relating to the excessive use of force by the police.
“There’s 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 make policy, that fairness becomes will naturally put in place.”
At 43, Dievendorf has a proven track record across the state of Michigan as a champion of social justice, as evidenced by her public policy work for Equality Michigan and the Lansing Human Rights Association (LAHR). She gained early experience working for two representatives in the state legislature, which, along with work in the nonprofit sector, suggests that Dievendorf is particularly savvy when it comes to Lansing politics. Seeing it from both sides, she would also 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 House and Senate bills and stopped negative legislation. “Being a more progressive candidate and legislator who understands how the system works is going to help all of us who want to make a difference for those who are vulnerable in Michigan. And that means making sure 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.
Dievendorf herself would represent a change, as Michigan’s first non-binary state representative. And like any trailblazer, she’s had bumps and roadblocks along the way, experiences she says were expected.
“It’s of course something that happens from our friends and colleagues in ways that they don’t know,” Dievendorf said, referring to homophobia and transphobia, “and also from those people who have visceral reactions towards us in an open and hateful way This is the world.Before winning the primary, these reactions manifested in the form of stereotypes, assumptions and rumors.
From experience, Dievendorf says she’s learned when it’s best to have a conversation in the face of hate and when it will only reinforce negativity. She called it frustrating and hurtful. As a public figure, Dievendorf said she had been receiving hate mail for 20 years. And even though sometimes she tells people she doesn’t mind, “you know you do,” she said.
For this reason, Dievendorf said the queer community should support each other. More than anything, she believes queer voices are vital.
“There is a need for us as queer LGBTQIA people to be there to represent Michigan – because we are Michigan. We have to be the ones who create our own politics, create the politics related to the issues that affect us. But also, Michigan residents need to be able to see us and know we exist. They need to know us as neighbors and friends, and our colleagues need to know us, because that’s a big part of people overcoming their own biases.
Dievendorf said it’s especially risky right now for LGBTQ+ contestants because of the way the hate is so openly and proudly expressed. But, she said, she and the others knew what they were getting into. Dievendorf has its sights set on the needs of its community.
“We were entering the process of bringing change to our communities and to other communities affected by prejudice. But also we were moving into positions where we were going to be installed and almost on display and available to those people who don’t like anyone like us – and yet also for them to get to know us better as human beings. And over time, it can make a huge difference for the better. It can also be very dangerous for us. Overall, however, it can make an incredible difference, as it can lead to life-changing public policy.
The work can be intense, but for Dievendorf, it’s not 24/7 politics. His hobbies are many and varied. She prides herself on being “a big science fanatic” who owns several digital microscopes. A budding entomologist, Dievendorf is particularly interested in cicadas. She does animal rehabilitation. Skateboarding. Longboard. And of course, there are his books.
“Yes, I am someone who is curious about everything,” Dievendorf confessed. “I own a bookstore, so I read about everything. There are piles 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, his house was full of books piled up – even in the fireplace – and when I was little I was like, “Yeah, that’s my person.”