by Jessica Carreras
When it comes to Michigan’s LGBT community, there are many unanswered questions and open wounds. However, while there is much to be unhappy about, during Pride month, Michigan gays and lesbians will celebrate who they are and exhibit exactly that: Pride.
Below, Ferndale Mayor Craig Covey, Senator Carl Levin and Governor Jennifer Granholm talk truth about the future of LGBTs in Michigan’s economy and politics, plus what they think the state’s gays have to be proud of.
What part do you think the LGBT community will play in Michigan’s economy and recovery?
Covey: As Michigan’s economy continues to reel from competition and cost cutting in the auto industry, our state needs the GLBT community and its energy and creativity more than ever. To change over to a post-industrial global economy, we need to open up and accept all people in their glorious diversity to succeed in the new ways of doing things.
Levin: Every Michigan citizen is impacted in this tough economy; unfortunately, no state is struggling more than Michigan right now. We have the highest unemployment rate in the country. All across the state, residents have felt the squeeze of the rising costs of gasoline, groceries and health care. Thousands of Michigan homeowners have lost their houses to foreclosure. These challenges are confronting everyone in Michigan, and the LGBT community is no exception.
Getting Michigan’s economy back on track is going to be a team effort. One of our comparative advantages as we compete with companies and countries around the world is our great diversity. The LGBT community contributes to that diversity. We must continue to work to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens are not discriminated against in workplaces, so that Michigan businesses will fully benefit from the skills and diverse perspectives of all our state’s citizens.
Economic recovery requires investments by the federal government – in infrastructure like bridges, and roads, as well as advanced technology – to create jobs and help our businesses grow and compete. Recovery also demands that Michigan companies do what they have done best for so long, even in this increasingly competitive global economy: design and produce products that we can export across the country and around the world. Recovery also requires that our entrepreneurs and small-business owners continue to innovate and spur job-creation. Members of the LGBT community are a part of all of these pursuits.
Granholm: There are so many instances in which the GLBT community has been an active participant in a downtown development project, or a local film festival, or even just in a local start-up small business that helps say to the world that Michigan is a great place to open a business. We know that the alternative energy and high-tech businesses that can diversify our economy often put a premium on choosing markets where diverse, exciting communities are drawing the young, creative workforce they’re looking for. The GLBT community has been a great catalyst in creating those attractive communities across the state.
How do you think the political climate in Michigan toward LGBTs has changed over the past few years?
Covey: Michigan was never in the forefront of progress on gay and lesbian issues because of its conservative social bent, but like the rest of America, the climate has changed for our community. Through decades of organizing, visibility, media support and education, this country is finally understanding the value and worth of diversity, including GLBT folks. Michigan knows it can’t stay stuck in the 1950s forever.
Levin: While the Michigan LGBT community has experienced setbacks such as the Michigan Supreme Court’s recent ruling barring public employers from providing same-sex partner benefits, I believe there are some signs that point to a more positive political climate.
With a woman and an African-American as front runners in this year’s Democratic nominating contest, the November election promises to be an historic one. People are excited about this election and are ready for a change in direction for our country after nearly eight years of the Bush administration. More young people than ever are engaged in the political process, and their energy and idealism will affect a broad array of issues, including LGBT concerns such as domestic partner benefits, employment non-discrimination and hate crimes legislation.
In some cases, the private sector is leading the way. Eight major corporations headquartered in Michigan received a 100 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign for its 2008 Corporate Equality Index. These companies realize that it’s just good business sense to provide a fair work place with full domestic partner benefits.
As the LGBT community has long known, all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Every day, Michigan’s LGBT community leads by example in moving our state toward a greater commitment to diversity and respect for all our citizens.
Granholm: I hope that our political climate has become more focused on celebrating and fostering diversity toward all people. My own administration has championed “anti-bullying” laws that help to protect people of every orientation. I’ve also signed executive orders protecting state employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression and I’ve appointed openly gay and lesbian people to high-level positions in my administration. In the face of that work, I was deeply disappointed to see Proposal 2 passed in 2004. Despite its passage – or perhaps because of it – I’ve been heartened to hear so many leaders reaffirm their commitment to support work that encourages diversity in every facet of our lives.
What is your favorite thing about the LGBT community?
Covey: By far, my appreciation and enjoyment of the GLBT community is its creativity, resilience, and its sense of humor. We add sparkle, taste, and comedy to society. How utterly bland would white bread America be without us.
Levin: I have long appreciated the LGBT community’s steadfast commitment to the fundamental principles of justice and equality. Those principles find concrete expression in the fight for hate crimes legislation – the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act – and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or ENDA. I proudly stand with the LGBT community in working to pass these two pieces of legislation.
I also admire the LGBT community for its tradition of reaching out and caring for others through organizations such as the Ruth Ellis Center and Affirmations. Earlier this year, I visited the Ruth Ellis Center and saw firsthand how vital this center is for LGBT youth by providing services such as housing, substance abuse counseling, mental and physical health care and helpline referrals.
Granholm: I have two favorite things: first, that you are tireless in working toward your goals, and second, that you’re tireless in pushing people in leadership – including me – to help you reach them.