By Sean Kosofsky
Let’s take an imaginary stroll through the City of Lansing, one day before it became the 14th Michigan city to outlaw discrimination against GLBT people.
The drive is uneventful, and we arrive at a parking garage just two blocks from the Capitol. Upon driving into the parking structure, the attendant notices the rainbow sticker on my car and immediately frowns, because he is sick of gay people “flaunting” their sexuality. Never mind his wedding ring and his “Hooters” T-shirt. I drive on, park and head toward a nearby coffeehouse, where just six months before our trip a young employee had called Triangle Foundation to report that he had been fired for being gay. His boss, also a man, made ongoing inappropriate comments toward women and gays in the workplace before he was eventually fired for bad management, not for discrimination. We stop by anyway, because we left Detroit early and need some caffeine soon.
At the coffeehouse, an employee sneers at us after overhearing us discussing GLBT-related legislation. She clearly thinks such issues are inappropriate for public discourse. An androgynous-appearing customer asks for the women’s bathroom key and heads there immediately. We overhear a coffee shop employee make a joke about the person’s appearance, saying, “I didn’t know which bathroom key to give her, the women’s or the men’s. Hehehehhe.” I frown, shrug and proceed with our purchase, chalking up the comment to young people being insensitive – but I don’t think it was discrimination, was it?
Our first meeting is with a conservative lawmaker from western Michigan who sits on a powerful committee that oversees our legislation. We have to produce identification at the Capitol and one of our transgender visitors does not have a state ID that matches her gender expression. Her name is Jennifer and her only ID, a Michigan driver’s license, says she is some guy named John. She is almost sent away until I convince the security officer that this is, indeed, the person the legislator is planning to meet. He begrudgingly allows us all to pass. Jennifer is embarrassed and sad that the troop of Boy Scouts visiting the Capitol in line behind us had to witness that display.
We arrive at the legislator’s office and I recognize the young woman at the front desk. We have seen each other at gay clubs before. She freezes, hoping that I will be discreet. She and I pretend to meet for the first time, and we wait patiently for our meeting to begin.
The legislator treats us rudely. Not only will he not support bills that would protect GLBT people from discrimination, but he announces to us that within a day he will introduce legislation that would ban gay adoption. My crew feels defeated, and that feeling is compounded when we walk past the female staffer, who sheepishly and sadly says goodbye to us as we go. I can’t imagine working for someone like that, but I also know that she has bills to pay. It makes me furious, and curious: If the legislator knew that his trusted staffer was a lesbian would he change his mind about queer people, or find a way to fire her? I think she knows the answer.
On our way to lunch I see a sign for an apartment for rent. I have contemplated getting a place in Lansing so that some nights I don’t have to drive back to Detroit. I pop in with my colleagues and inquire about the room. An older woman greets us and takes a good look at us, and although we are dressed professionally, I think she can tell we are queer. I tell her that I am looking for a place for myself and just wanted to know the price. She dissuades me from applying because, although she admits they have a vacancy, she thinks I would find a “better fit” down the street on Walnut. Her place is the perfect location for my needs, but it appears this place is off limits to people like me.
After several more meetings, my colleagues and I are tired and ready to head back home. Before we leave I grab a copy of the local paper. The headline reads, “Lansing City Council Set to Outlaw Discrimination Tonight.” I smile and as I pay my parking fee, hand the paper to the parking attendant and say, “Have a nice night. I know we will.”