Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
BY SHARON GITTLEMAN
SOUTHFIELD – Programs that have eased the way for women and minorities to be full partners in Michigan’s workforce and educational system are under threat, thanks to a ballot initiative that would erase affirmative action efforts by public employers, contractors and educational institutions.
This November, voters will find a proposal on their ballots that would amend the Michigan Constitution to ban public institutions from using affirmative action and other equal opportunity programs that “give preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin.”
Last week, opponents of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative measure gathered at the Southfield Public Library to talk about the history and effect of affirmative action over the years, the impact of the Initiative, what can be done to fight against the proposal’s passage and why the LGBT community should be at the forefront of this effort.
Supporters of the Initiative argue the amendment will eliminate state-sanctioned discrimination created by programs like affirmative action that violate the principal of equal treatment under the law.
Opponents say the measure will roll back programs that have given women and minorities their first crack at overcoming the effects of generations of discrimination in employment and education and would make a mockery of our country’s claim of offering a fair shake for all its citizens.
Attendees spoke about the need to encourage gay white men to join the battle to retain laws protecting their lesbian and minority brothers and sisters.
“The issue of affirmative action is really about the promise of equality this country holds out. The reality does not meet the promise,” said Triangle Foundation Executive Director Jeff Montgomery, one of the organizers of the Promise of Equality: Affirmative Action Delivers panel discussion at the library.
Montgomery said people can’t pick and choose when they will stand up for equality.
“We’ve always relied on the principal that nobody is free unless everybody is free,” he said. “Now we have to step up and show up when someone else’s rights are affected.”
The evening featured a panel of three speakers: Jackie Washington, president of the Wayne State Board of Governors, Khaled Beydoun, the ACLU of Michigan’s Field Organizer acting in opposition to the Initiative and George Westerman, a board member of Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center and a principal consultant for IBM Global Services.
Washington said the affirmative action and equal opportunity programs threatened by the Initiative are still vitally needed. Without them, women’s career horizons – and paychecks – would shrink to levels experienced before protective legislation was passed in the early 1970s.
Beydoun said the Initiative had an even broader reach than college admission practices and corporate hiring.
He said elementary and high school science and math programs targeted at women and minorities and gender-based public health initiatives, like breast cancer screenings and women’s shelters, could be endangered by the proposed constitutional amendment.
Westerman said, as a white male, he wanted to add his voice to those opposed to the Initiative.
“I wanted to speak as a person who until recently didn’t feel the effect of affirmative action,” he said.
Eliminating programs that help women and minorities succeed would diminish the prospects for our state’s healthy future – especially given Michigan’s already battered economy, he said.
It would place stumbling blocks before the state’s efforts to build a sound community by encouraging diversity of thought and opinions, Westerman said. Corporations would be tempted to move out of state or refuse to open offices in Michigan if they were stripped of their ability to aim recruitment efforts at minorities and women, he said.
One audience member scolded the amendment’s opponents for being too timid in meeting the challenge and reacting to proponents’ efforts instead of taking command of the battle.
“We need to treat this like the Super Bowl,” encouraged another audience member, asking attendees to institute a countdown to November with a clear agenda aimed at fighting against the ballot measure.
Triangle Foundation’s Director of Policy, Sean Kosofsky, said his group would be spearheading an effort to urge LGBT clubs and organizations to work to oppose the Initiative.
“It’s important for people to reach out to their friends and co-workers,” said Westerman.