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LGBTQ protesters: ‘Gay families matter!’

Published Jan 28, 2012 11:15 AM

In Michigan, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community is fed up. LGBTQ people are mad at right-wing legislators and the support they are getting from Gov. Rick Snyder.

More than 150 people rallied outside the State House in Lansing on Jan. 19 to deliver a message: “Gay Families Matter.” The protest was organized by a coalition of LGBTQ community centers around the state, after Snyder signed a bill making it illegal for any public employer to provide domestic partner benefits.

Zachary Bauer, executive director of the Kalamazoo, Mich., Gay and Lesbian Resource Center, explained that 60 percent of the voters of Kalamazoo voted to give domestic partner benefits to city workers. The bill overturns this progressive vote. “They took away your voice,” said Bauer.

“Anytime that someone works to deny the rights of a group — rights that they enjoy — they are a moral hypocrite,” said David Garcia, executive director of the Detroit-area community center, Affirmations. “I am a gay father. My son lives with me. I am a Mexican-American. My son is being raised by many aunts, uncles and cousins. Rick Snyder is a moral hypocrite.”

“We’re residents of the state of Michigan. We deserve the same rights as heterosexual families,” added Curtis Lipscomb, executive director of KICK, a Detroit organization for LGBTQ African Americans.

Also represented at the rally were ­LGBTQ centers from the Michigan cities of Benton Harbor, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Saginaw; the Ruth Ellis Center for LGBTQ youth in Detroit; and the statewide civil rights group, Equality Michigan.

When Snyder exited the building, he waved but maintained his distance from the rally. He was loudly booed, and so was the bill’s sponsor, Republican State Rep. Dave Agema. Protesters followed Agema down the street, chanting “Gay families matter!” Agema complained on Facebook of being “swarmed with gay men screaming hate at me.”

Right wing targets LGBTQ community

Last year, the right wing failed to strip state employees of domestic partner benefits. An anti-same sex marriage bill passed by Michigan voters was used to try to take away these negotiated health care benefits. The right wing said granting equal benefits treats same-sex relationships as the equivalent of heterosexual marriage and is therefore illegal.

The Civil Service Commission then ruled that a state employee could choose an individual living with them — a partner, family member or housemate — to put on their insurance plan. A majority of the state legislature voted against the Civil Service ruling but lacked the supermajority needed to overturn it.

The latest bill is a mean-spirited attack on LGBTQ municipal and county workers after the right wing could not take benefits away at the state level.

The same state legislature refused to pass an anti-bullying bill to protect schoolchildren from abuse based on categories including race, religion, sex and sexual orientation. In other states, where policies “enumerated” specific types of discrimination, student complaints decreased.

Michigan was one of five states that had no anti-bullying statute until a weakened law passed last year without enumeration. The bill removed previous language that actually contained an exception for bullying driven by religious conviction.

The LGBTQ movement in Michigan will try to stop the state legislature from passing House Bill 5039, which would overturn local civil rights ordinances that prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled a similar bill in Colorado unconstitutional.

There are at least three other bigoted bills that may be voted on this year in Michigan. Senate Bill 518 forces state universities to allow students in psychology and counseling programs to refuse to counsel LGBTQ students. House Bill 4089 blocks gender reassignment surgery in prisons and other state institutions. Agema has introduced a new bill that eliminates the Healthy Michigan Fund Initiative for HIV prevention and care, making Michigan also ineligible for federal funds for these programs.

The right-wing attacks on the LGBTQ community are anti-union and anti-democratic. It is now illegal for public unions to negotiate equal benefits. The right of a local community to ban discrimination is threatened.

Meanwhile, Michigan Public Act Four allows Snyder to appoint an “emergency manager” to take over a city, county or school board, stripping power from elected governments. The EM can break union contracts, privatize schools and sell public assets, but must fulfill debt obligations. So far, most cities under receivership are majority African-American.

Activists at the demonstration on Jan. 19 eagerly signed the petitions to repeal Public Act 4.