By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
FERNDALE – Despite the passage of the anti-gay family ban on equal marriage rights in Texas, 2005 also held bright news for LGBT voters. Twenty-four out of thirty-eight candidates endorsed by Michigan’s pro-gay human rights political action committees won their local races, and thirty-five of the fifty-five candidates endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory fund either won their races or did well enough to qualify for a run-off vote later this year.
“There were also victories for the GLBT community around the country including Governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia, showing a mid-term defeat for President Bush’s anti-gay agenda,” said Sean Kosofsky, a member of Triangle Pride PAC’s Election Committee.
Midwest AIDS Prevention Project Executive Director and Ferndale City Council Member Craig Covey agreed.
“For me, the best thing that happened are the two governorships that went or stayed Democratic – and that is considered a strong slap in the face to George W. Bush and the national Republican Party,” he said.
In two notable Lansing races, former State Senator Virg Bernero and openly gay Executive Director of Michigan Equality Chris Swope won their respective races for Mayor and City Clerk. Both candidates received financial support in addition to an endorsement from Michigan Equality, and were also endorsed by the Lansing Association for Human Rights PAC and Triangle Pride PAC.
According to Bernero Campaign Manager Cullen Schwarz, “Those were endorsements that we were proud to have, and were a net positive for the campaign.”
Swope said that his sexual orientation wasn’t an issue for the wider electorate during his campaign.
“My opponent tried to make an issue of it, especially at the last minute, and it didn’t work, so it shows that the citizens of Lansing are ready to have an openly gay person serving in an important and visible position,” he said.
In Detroit, candidates endorsed by Triangle Pride PAC took six out of nine open City Council seats. And while Triangle did not make an endorsement for the mayor’s race, Kosofsky said, “Although neither major candidate was endorsed by Triangle Pride PAC, the race forced Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to apologize to the GLBT community for hurtful statements made back in 2001. [He] even had fundraisers at a gay bar in Detroit. Hopefully this will mean a more responsive and inclusive second term.”
In other Michigan races, candidates who received a rating of at least “Positive” from LAHR-PAC won three out of four open seats on the Lansing City Council and one of two open seats on the East Lansing City Council. And, in addition to Swope, openly gay candidates won races in Birmingham, Royal Oak, Southfield, and Mount Clemens.
In addition to the wins cited by Kosofsky, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which provides monetary and other assistance to pro-gay, openly-gay candidates, reported that thirty-five of the fifty-five candidates it endorsed won their races or performed well enough to proceed to a runoff. The Victory Fund reported wins for its candidates in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Houston, Texas – the fourth largest city in the country.
“These candidates bring the skill, talent and passion that the LGBT community has to contribute to our political system and to society as a whole,” said Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. “Winning races at the local level and striving for change within the political process is the surest way to achieve true equality for gay and lesbian Americans.”
Medical marijuana wins in Ferndale, Traverse City
In votes that could have positive consequences for people living with HIV/AIDS, the cities of Ferndale and Traverse City both passed ordinances that would give medical marijuana users less to fear from local police. The Ferndale ordinance “changes our local ordinances and completely decriminalizes marijuana when used by patients under medical practitioners’ supervision,” said Covey. “However, it does not affect state and federal laws that still regard any and all use and possession of marijuana as illegal. It’s considered more symbolic step or a message from the grassroots to the powers that be that there is a desire to change the way we regard marijuana use,” he added.
The same is true of the Traverse City ordinance, which according to a Nov. 9 report in the Traverse City Record-Eagle directs the city’s police department to make medical marijuana use “a low law-enforcement priority.”