Michigan LGBTQ community is ‘Hungry 4 Equality’

Detroit — David Garcia, executive director of Affirmations, Detroit’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community center, went on a 24-hour hunger strike on July 30. He sat in an armchair near the center’s street-facing window. Garcia was followed by seven other community center leaders — from the African-American LGBTQ support center, KICK; Detroit Latinoz; and five centers in other Michigan cities.

These eight launched the Community Center Network’s “Hungry 4 Equality” campaign to raise public awareness of the discrimination LGBTQ people face in Michigan. The state has some of the most hateful legislation in the country. An “Equality Rights Hall of Shame” profiles six prominent bigots.

CCN plans to continue the campaign for 100 days — until Election Day — with a new volunteer fasting in the window for 24 hours every day. There is no shortage of volunteers. This writer was told that to be an official striker she would have to sign up soon, as most of the slots were taken.

The hunger strike’s website describes how anti-LGBTQ oppression manifests itself in Michigan. A worker can be legally fired, evicted and denied public accommodation based on their sexuality or gender identity/expression. The right to marry and/or to adopt children is denied.

House Bill 4470, passed in January, denies domestic partner benefits to city workers, even in cities that previously provided them. This anti-democratic bill nullified decisions of elected city officials — or, as in Kalamazoo, the voters — to give all employees equal benefits. Pending legislation includes HB 5039, which would block city ordinances that bar anti-LGBTQ discrimination; Senate Bill 518/HB 5040, which would allow students in university counseling programs to refuse to counsel clients based on “moral or religious” grounds; and SB 975, which would allow employers, health care providers and insurance companies to deny services under a “moral” exemption.

In the Hall of Shame are three state legislators — Jase Bolger, David Agema and Tom McMillan — along with Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuett; Troy, Mich., Mayor Janice Daniels; and Gary Glenn, state president of the American Family Association.

Bolger gained international notoriety for silencing two female state representatives who used the words “vagina” and “vasectomy” in a House debate on reproductive rights. In addition to backing the above-mentioned bills, Agema proposed legislation to eliminate state funding for HIV/AIDS services and use the savings for airport maintenance. Schuette defended Public Act 297, which denied domestic partner benefits to state workers, and wants to prevent transgender drivers from having their gender identity listed on their licenses.

Daniels — who will face a recall election in November — drew public ire for using a bigoted slur, writing on Facebook that she wanted to throw away her “I love New York” bag because the state recognized same-sex marriage. Glenn’s AFA is classified as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He campaigned vociferously against anti-bullying legislation designed to protect LGBTQ — and all — schoolchildren.

What will defeat ignorance

WW spoke to hunger striker Charlie Erickson, from Dayton, Ohio, and residing temporarily in metro Detroit. “I’m from out of state but those same laws are similar in other states,” the young activist explained. “The marriage laws, the ability to freely express myself, having fear of being fired, not having the same rights as straight people is very important. This is the least I can do. I feel lucky today to be born in this era, but that’s due to struggles such as these.

“It’s just about reaching out to people, making relationships. One of the main things that brings people out of ignorance is that they know someone who is LGBT,” Erickson concluded.

In fact, many Michigan workers have been “brought out of ignorance” by their LGBTQ family members, friends and coworkers. The Hall of Shamers don’t speak for the majority. An example would be the jury that awarded $4.5 million to University of Michigan student activist Chris Armstrong.

Armstrong sued former Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell for defamation and harassment after Shirvell repeatedly slandered, threatened and abused him online and on campus. On his “Chris Armstrong Watch” blog, Shirvell labeled Armstrong “a viciously militant homosexual activist” who “mocked Christians.” Armstrong’s attorney, Deborah Gordon, described the jury as “a diverse group of people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds” whose consensus was that “this was defamation, unprotected by freedom of speech.” (Between The Lines, Aug. 17)

The fasters have spotters, people who accompany them to make sure they are okay during the fast. Commenting “as a high school student,” Charlie’s spotter Bridget said, “if there is more activism among youth, then the future can change faster for the better.”

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