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Viewpoint: Pox on both your houses

By |2018-01-15T21:46:35-05:00February 22nd, 2007|Opinions|

The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Throughout the ’90s I worked diligently to get LBGT people recognized as a protected class at Lansing Community College. It took years, but when the board voted to add sexual orientation to the nondiscrimination policy it was a unanimous vote. Then I became the first openly gay man elected to serve on a community college board of trustees in Michigan, the LCC Board in fact.
In 2001, my colleagues and I had a long debate about including gender identity and expression spelled out in our nondiscrimination policies. Unfortunately there was not support to spell it out, but we did decide to attach a legal ruling from our attorneys that would place discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression under the category of sex discrimination. The decision was strongly supported by myself, board Chair Brian Jeffries and Trustee Olga Holden. College President Paula Cunningham was very supportive and assured us she would not accept or tolerate discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.
Fast forward. Cunningham is gone. Holden and I lost our re-elections and Jeffries is now vice president of the Lansing City Council. A new president has been installed, without the normal public vetting such candidates go through. Her stance on LBGT issues is unknown.
The current Board has created a 35,0000-square-foot University Center, using taxpayer money. Ground was broken for this building in fall of 2006, and eight universities have signed on as partners, including Spring Arbor University.
So one can imagine when word broke about the firing of SAU associate dean of adult studies “John” Julie-Marie Nemecek for being transgender, I was curious how this would impact the relationship between LCC and SAU. So I sent an e-mail inquiry to the college asking.
“Mr. Heywood, Thank you for bringing this to the attention of LCC,” wrote Tess Brown, media relations/special events coordinator for LCC, on Feb. 9. “We are looking into the matter.”
On Feb. 16 I spoke with Brown by phone, the message had changed little and it required an aggressive questioning to get the following statement from Brown. “We are aware of LCC Policies on this matter and the President has been informed of the situation. We do not know how or if this situation will impact our relationship with Spring Arbor University.”
Now I would think the Gay Straight Alliance at LCC would be infuriated to know the college was using public tax dollars to support a university that was violating college policies on discrimination.
The GSA was queried via e-mail and early last week met. They were able to hammer out the statement, “We support the transgender person.”
Um, Duh?
They sent that to me, and an invitation for myself and a transperson to join the GSA in their next meeting to help them write a letter on the matter. I politely declined joining them.

Both situations show a clear issue: Leadership at Lansing Community College, including that of the GSA, is completely incompetent and unable to address the issues facing LBGT students.
When I left LCC in July 2003, I left an institution that had made great strides in protecting LBGT staff and students. The college was the first Community College in Michigan to offer domestic partner benefits to same sex couples. We beat the universities and colleges to the punch and included protections for gender identity and expression. The president had met with LCC GSA students, including attending GSA activities during pride week. The chair had run a campaign and won election to City Council relying heavily on support from the LBGT community.
But now, we have an institution that doesn’t have the resolve to fight the far right’s attacks on domestic partner benefits (the Board chose not to join other public education institutions in supporting the ACLU lawsuit on the issue,) a president who is incapable, or unwilling, to condemn a private business partner who has openly discriminated against a transgender employee, and a GSA that would prefer to have social gatherings and drag shows, than to challenge the president and the elected officials to protect them.
The end message of this is: Queers not welcome here.

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