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LANSING – Governor Jennifer Granholm and her staff hosted an afternoon tea gathering of about 100 LGBT leaders and activists at the Governor’s mansion on April 19. This was the first time a sitting Michigan governor invited a group of LGBT people to the mansion, and many in attendance felt the historical significance of the event.
“From our community standpoint it was a great thing for all of us to be together under the governor’s roof. It was an exciting and energizing thing,” said Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of the Detroit-based Triangle Foundation. “We were invited into the house of a friend and I think that is very, very important.”
Nearly 20 of the governor’s staff joined her on the stage in the mansion’s large, dramatic living room. Granholm introduced each one, and made a point of acknowledging that four of her full time staff are gay men, including her chief of staff John Burchett, and Jim Stokes, the director of her Detroit office.
“You know you have a friend in the Governor,” said Granholm. “I campaigned on my vision of One Michigan, and the LGBT community is part of that. I want to talk about some important issues, for example I think we all want to amend the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation, but that would be very difficult with the current legislature.”
Kenn Bing asked the governor to talk about her position on second parent adoption rights for same-sex couples. He and his partner are raising a little girl, but he explained that only his partner has parental rights because they were unable to adopt her together.
“It is my position that whatever is in the best interests of the child is what should be our priority,” said Granholm. Just then, Bing’s three-year-old daughter, Destiny, ran up to him and, while clinging to his leg, smiled up at the governor. “It is clear where this little one’s bond is. It is always important to remember that this is about the children.”
Johnny Jenkins, co-founder of the Black Pride Society, said that although he appreciated the historic significance of the event, he sees it as only a first step on a long road.
“I thought it was necessary on her part to mend some fences with us,” said Jenkins, who said he still feels some skepticism because of the governor’s hesitance to come out publicly in 2004 against Prop. 2, the anti-marriage constitutional amendment. “I think inviting the statewide leaders of our community into her home was great symbolism, but we come from a community that is ready for action and commitment from our allies. We don’t need lukewarm allies – political or economic. I think she still has some work to do with us. I look forward to the next invite.”
“I believe it was the first time I heard her say that the LGBT community is part of her One Michigan approach,” said Leslie Thompson, executive director of Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center in Ferndale. “I was also impressed that she appointed so many LGBT people on her staff.”
Thompson also considered the gathering a beginning, and hopes that the governor will become a more active leader for LGBT rights. “I guess I am still looking for a more vocal stance on our issues outside of the comfort zone of the LGBT community. I would have liked to have seen her as passionate about Proposal 2 as she was about the Casino issue in Detroit,” said Thompson, who mentioned that the governor will be attending the Affirmations Big Bash this weekend.
Although this was not a political event (the governor may not campaign from the official residence), it was hard to miss that Granholm is facing a tough challenge from Republican Dick DeVos this election year.
“I think everyone leaving that event realized that this upcoming election is a very significant one for our community,” said Montgomery, who strongly supports Granholm for reelection. “Everyone is going to have to be very committed to maintain her in office.”
“I think it was a great thing to do,” said Barbara Murray, executive director of AIDS Partnership Michigan in Detroit. “It’s pretty clear from the polls right now that she’s in for a tough race. When you are in that kind of situation it makes sense to reach out to your natural constituency.”
Murray said that she was surprised that Granholm had not mentioned HIV/AIDS in her remarks. “As an AIDS service provider, I wish she had said something about AIDS. In the last six months we have seen two AIDS agencies go under, and each time that happens our client load goes up. I look to the governor for support on HIV & AIDS.”
Granholm will be the Grand Marshall at AIDS Walk Michigan this fall, said Murray.