Tuesday, 24 January 2012 12:54

Love Equalizer: Q&A with Erin Wilson

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Questions for Erin Wilson, founder of Until Love Is Equal, director of Wealthy Theatre and board president of ArtPeers.

You're involved in Wealthy Theatre, Until Love Is Equal and ArtPeers. What's your main focus for 2012?

I couldn't say one would be less immense than the other. There's the centennial campaign at the theatre and ArtPeers is in the middle of a major reboot. Of course, we carry on with Until Love Is Equal.

Until Love Is Equal began in June of 2011 as a response to the City of Holland's June 15 vote excluding sexual orientation and gender identity from an anti-discrimination ordinance. How has the movement grown since then?

I think it's grown largely because it's a positive movement. It's not angry, it's beyond reactionary. And for me, I come at this as a straight, white, male conservative. It's really about loving a group of people enough to say, "I don't care what you do in the privacy of your home with your partner, that's how much I love you."

At times, it was mistaken as a boycott of Holland. But really, it's more about supporting the businesses and organizations that are welcoming to all customers. How do you make sure that point is clear?

We've had a series of efforts that involved e-mailing, messaging, calling and in-person visits to try to extend this invitation. There are a number of businesses that are on the list that initially weren't because it wasn't clear enough that we were not a boycott. We worked with them to clear that up in the description of what we're doing. We're not doing anything negative or otherwise about businesses that are not on the list.

I find it interesting that you're approaching an issue that's normally labeled as ‘liberal' in a conservative manner.

It's one thing that's inadvertently made this movement different. I think that we probably puzzle some of our partners. It's a complementary thing. Obviously we're working toward the same end, but the thing that's different about Until Love Is Equal is it that it's a single focus. The best thing that could possibly happen is that we render ourselves useless by having these protections put in place.

So you've reached your goal if you don't need to exist?

People are going to read this interview in 50 years and it's not going to make any sense. I or the people that are in Until Love Is Equal shouldn't be looked at as doing anything enlightening. This is pretty basic stuff. You shouldn't get points for saying something so obvious.

Until Love Is Equal and Brewery Vivant are partnering for a Valentine's Day event. At the event, you'll be selling buttons and stickers. What more can people expect?

Brewery Vivant is planning an inspired, non-Hallmark Valentine's Day event 'for everyone else' — a 'lonely hearts club' with amazing food pairings, beer samples, truffles and camaraderie. And a portion of all sales goes to Until Love Is Equal. (More info)

Let's talk about you a little bit. Where did you grow up?

I was born in Muskegon Heights and I lived in Grand Rapids for a year, then I moved to New York. I lived in the Dominican Republic for a while.

When did you leave Grand Rapids?

In late 1998. When I moved to New York and Santo Domingo it was to immerse myself in something that was much bigger than myself.

What did you do in New York?

I went to New York to become a writer. I've written since I was 12 years old, but you get there and you realize how much of an uphill climb that is. That's not casting it in a bad way.

What brought you back to Grand Rapids from New York?

[My partner, Amy, and I] got pregnant and at the time, it really wasn't the place to raise a child, so we looked at different options. There's the two-Indian-restaurant rule: I would never move to a city that didn't have two Indian restaurants, so that was a fundamental part.

It's also given you the chance to be a fundamental part of organizations.

We have this opportunity right now to shape our future. This doesn't come along very often and that's where with ArtPeers, our first mandate was to try to address the lack of sustainable options for artists. If we feel like we benefit from them, we have to make a place for them by giving them a level playing field.

You have three kids, two boys and a girl. Do they participate in the work you do?

If my kids are at a sound check with me, they'll go up to the performer — whether it's Michelle Shocked or somebody local — and they'll say, ‘This is my Papi's theatre.' And it's completely not my theatre, but it's really cute to hear.

Interview conducted, condensed and edited by Lindsay Patton-Carson. Photos by Seth Thompson.

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