By SHARON GITTLEMAN
FERNDALE – Affirmative action in Michigan is under attack.
With so many challenges facing the gay community today, is that a battle LGBT people should join?
Vanessa Marr says yes.
"We need to always to stand on the side of fairness and equality across the board," said Marr, civic engagement coordinator for Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center in Ferndale. "If it affects one group it affects all of us. If they are targeting certain groups with regard to affirmative action now, that will just give them more reason to discriminate against us."
Marr helped organize Affirming Action: Uniting Our Communities for Change, a free town hall forum held at 7 p.m. Sept. 13 at Zion Lutheran Church, located at 143 Albany in Ferndale.
Marr hopes the meeting will galvanize the LGBT community to help defeat the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.
If voters approve the initiative on Nov. 7, Michigan's Constitution would be amended to ban affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin in public employment, education or state contracts.
The controversial proposal has survived several attempts by opponents to bar it from the ballot, and will likely face more challenges between now and election day.
Urvashi Vaid, executive director of the Arcus Foundation in Kalamazoo, will speak to the crowd gathered for the meeting tonight.
A panel discussion will follow with Khaled Beydoun, from the American Civil Liberties Union, Alexandra Matish, with Michigan Women United and Johnny Jenkins, representing the Black Pride Society fielding questions.
Affirmative action gives people who have traditionally faced bigotry and intolerance some degree of protection, Marr said.
"We truly have a long way to go in terms of ending educational and workplace discrimination," she said. "Major gains have been made in that respect, but women are still earning far less than their male counterparts. People of color earn far less than that."
The LGBT community needs to take a stand against the proposal, she said.
"I want people to think critically about why we need affirmative action. It's not a matter of a feel good action," she said. "This will benefit all of us."
Vaid, a graduate of Vassar College and Northeastern University School of Law, was invited to speak at the event because she's a dynamic leader with an impressive history in the LGBT movement, Marr said.
From 1986-2001, Vaid worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force as a media director, executive director and director of the organization's policy institute think-tank.
As a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, she engaged in projects related to HIV/AIDS policies in penitentiaries.
Vaid, a former columnist for "The Advocate," often speaks out at events related to social justice, civil rights and LGBT equality.
People who come to the town hall meeting will leave energized and motivated to help others achieve equality, Marr said.
"If you want to find a creative way to defeat and combat discrimination, then you need to show up and roll up your sleeves and work together," she said. "This is a bridge building event."
For more information about the event, call Marr at (248) 398-7105, or e-mail her at [email protected].