DETROIT, Mich. — In April of 1997, Sean Kosofsky was a recent graduate of Oakland University with a degree in political science. On the 23rd day of that month, something happened that charted his course for the next 11-and-a-half years.
He stood with Lynne Martinez, then a Michigan state representative, and Jeffrey Montgomery, then executive director of Triangle Foundation, an LGBT anti-violence project and proponent of gay rights causes. Together they announced a bill to amend the state’s hate crime law to include crimes against persons based on their real or perceived sexual orientation. Although the bill has never passed, it has been reintroduced in every legislative session since.
“I became a lobbyist,” Kosofsky said. “That was the beginning of the birth of [Triangle Foundation’s] legislative program.”
But all that is coming to an end. Kosofsky, director of policy at Triangle, is leaving the organization and the Detroit metro area, his home for 32 years, to head to North Carolina.
“I love Triangle Foundation and I love the people of Michigan. It doesn’t have to do with this economy, really. My partner has put his career on hold for mine. So, now it is my turn. He has been offered a position in North Carolina,” he said.
No departure date has been firmly set yet, though Kosofsky said he thinks it will be by the beginning of Michigan’s fall legislative season.
“It’s bittersweet because Triangle is going through a lot of changes and I want to be there,” he said, citing the anti-violence group’s search for a new executive director and the upcoming national elections.
Since Kosofsky became the full-time director of policy at Triangle, he has worked tirelessly in building relationships with politicians and lobbyists in Lansing. And, he said, proof of that work is clear: “No anti-gay laws have passed since our legislative program was developed in 1997. I think there is a correlation there. We were able to stop the worst of the worst stuff from becoming law. Although we have not had that success on the ballot, we have with the legislature.”
He said he specifically recalls rallying legislators and members of the LGBT community and allies to defeat a proposed marriage law in the legislature, which later became the 2004 marriage amendment to the state Constitution.
“I do think our community failed to support the ballot measure in 2004,” he said. “I don’t think we ran a good campaign. Part of that was that we got started late, and we did not have the money. We had second-best numbers in the country despite the fact we were broke. A lot of things fell apart. Our community has been doing so much work well. We had not experienced fighting for our families statewide. I think that is a place we failed. We may not have been able to stop or prevent it, but we could have done better.”
Addressing the amendment campaign, he continued: “I think our community organizations could have done a better job years ago in stopping the infighting. We made a commitment to get to know each other as friends, not just activists (following the loss of the ballot measure). A lot of the infighting people hear about in our community could have been prevented. We are working together better now than ever before. We could have done a better job at working together in a more collaborative way.”
How will Kosofsky’s departure affect both the future of Triangle and of the broader progressive movement, where he has been a leading voice?
Jay Kaplan, from the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Project, said that the drive that Kosofsky brought to the movement will be missed. However — echoing Kosofsky’s own thoughts — he believes that new leaders will step up to fill the void.
Kaplan also noted the importance of the reason Kosofsky is leaving the organization he has spent more than a decade building.
“It’s very sweet that he wants to be there for his partner who has been there supporting his career,” Kaplan said. “It is touching that he has decided this is an important decision in his life. It shows the human side of being an advocate and fighting the cause and I think that is so important to have that balance. You can get so involved that you wake up one day and say where is the rest of my life?”
— Todd A. Heywood is the capitol correspondent for Between the Lines, the statewide LGBT newspaper of Michigan, as well as a Fellow for the Center for Independent Media. His work can be found regularly on www.Pridesource.com and www.MichiganMessenger.com. This article originally appeared in Between the Lines and on The Michigan Messenger and is reprinted with permission.