By Sean Kosofsky
Tsunamis are known for being huge, unexpected, and very damaging to the established order. What happened on election day may not have been a revolution, but it was more than a tidal wave. The question is: Will Democrats squander this opportunity?
As a lobbyist I work hard representing the interests of the GLBT community in Michigan. Since 1999 Republicans have controlled both chambers of the Michigan legislature. During those eight years, our community has been under constant assault, with bills, amendments, resolutions, and hidden definitions that aim to disenfranchise us. Most of that time, we have been told that pro-GLBT legislation will go nowhere. Our bills were dead in the water. State Senator Wayne Kuipers told me, point-blank, that as long as the anti-bullying bill includes GLBT youth, he will not let it go anywhere.
But the November elections changed everything. Or did it?
Democrats took control of the Michigan House of Representatives, which allows many of us to stop, take a breath and refocus our energy to playing offense, not just defense. Hopefully, attacks on funding for GLBT charities from the State will stop. Efforts to pass so-called “conscientious objector” bills that allow health care professionals and adoption agencies gays, will also stall. The same goes for any efforts to limit GLBT adoptions or further restrict domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples.
But will we move forward? Will the Governor and House Democrats take advantage of their new found power to ban anti-GLBT discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations? Can we finally protect children from bullying? Will children of unmarried parents finally be allowed to have a legal relationship with both their parents? If we work hard enough, we can get pretty close. But it takes each and every one of us talking to our lawmakers, especially Senate Republicans.
Too often in recent years, Democrats fear moving rapidly and boldly on popular initiatives that even have a whiff of controversy. GLBT policy initiatives, outside of eventual marriage equality, however, are not controversial at all. Non-discrimination, opposition to bullying and finding good homes for children, should be no brainers. But if Democrats don’t show some muscle, our community will be no better off than if conservatives ran the whole board.
Democrats now have a majority on every education board in the state. Will these visionaries ensure that transgender people are protected and “married housing” on campus is available for same-sex couples?
Washington D.C. is even more awash in liberal leadership. Not only did Democrats take back the U.S. House of Representatives, but with the support of two Independent Senators, they have control of the U.S. Senate too. Talk about a dream come true! Now is the time to pass a federal non-discrimination bill that protects all GLB and T people. Detroit Congressman John Conyers could move this through his judiciary committee swiftly. Repealing the ban on gay and lesbian members of the U.S. Military should be simple, especially with Michigan Senator Carl Levin chairing the committee that handles that issue. And passing sensible immigration protection for same-sex couples who straddle international borders, should be a breeze. Will it happen? Will Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, include our community in her first “100 hours” agenda or will we not know our fate until the eleventh hour?
Governor Granholm has a chance to use her strong mandate from voters to push for our legislative agenda. Senator Stabenow can do the same in Washington, seeming as how she is the third highest ranking member of the U.S. Senate.
We need to stop running away from gay issues, as if they are the kiss of death. In 2004, despite dire predictions of an evangelical avalanche, Democrats picked up five seats in the Michigan House. This year, despite a bottomless pit of money, Dick DeVos could not buck the trend of what Michigan voters want – change! Voters want an end to Terry Schiavo using, marriage banning, race baiting, immigrant bashing, sex scandal burying self-righteousness. The voters have spoken and they mentioned our names.