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By Eric Rader
In a historic vote on Dec.18, the United States Senate finally did the right thing and consigned the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to what commentators called the “dustbin of history.” Good riddance. Now that Congress has finally repealed this atrocious law, the cause of equality for LGBTs moves forward. Never before in American history have so many political and legal leaders, not to mention the American people, been so supportive of our community and our rights to equality under the law.
While there is much for our community to celebrate, there are still enormous challenges facing us. While most Americans may support equal rights for the LGBT community, there remains a powerful minority that seeks to discriminate against people because of sexual orientation and gender identity. In some quarters, it is still OK to disparage people because their real or perceived sexual orientation does not fit the “norm.” While political opponents of equality may not publicly condone violence or threats against LGBTs, their harsh statements can incite bigots to action. In the middle of last week’s House debate on ending DADT, one Congressman stated his belief that the very existence of our country would be doomed if gays and lesbians were allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military. One can only imagine the impact of such a statement on young people who are struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity. This year’s episodes of LGBT suicides point to the dangerous consequences of bigotry.
As we move into 2011, the political reality in Washington and Lansing will change dramatically. Given the recent verbal and physical attacks on the LGBT community, many people are unsettled by what may happen legislatively over the next several months and years, even as we celebrate recent victories. We must continue to remind our elected leaders that they were not put into power to discriminate against anyone. To the extent that our newly elected leaders have any mandate, it is related to the troubled economy, not social issues. Indeed, the incoming Republican governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, did not focus on social issues in his landslide election campaign. His own statements on LGBT equality, while not as positive as the actions of Gov. Granholm, are still rather moderate by Republican standards.
The new governor may have to make a decision soon after he takes office on whether the State of Michigan should offer benefits to people living with state employees, something Granholm has supported, but will likely not be settled before she leaves office. So far, the newly elected governor has not come out against this proposal. It will be important to keep the political pressure on Snyder as he considers this issue. Our community should not dismiss the new governor as someone who will not listen to us. Let’s engage the new governor in good faith, since his own social views do not seem to fit the right-wing agenda. The LGBT community should try to educate him on issues of equality and their importance to Michigan’s overall success and work with him where possible to advance pro-equality measures.
It is highly unlikely that Congress will do much of anything that will advance equality for the LGBT community over the next few years. Since the Republican House will probably not take action on issues of LGBT equality, it is important for President Obama to use his executive powers as fully as he can to protect equality for all people. The president can also help by using the bully pulpit of his office to speak out forcefully against bullying against youth because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, as he did in an Internet address this fall. It is welcome news that the president seems to be softening his opposition to same-sex marriage, and we should continue to educate the president on the significance of this issue to our community. The president will also have to determine the logistics and speed of the implementation of the DADT repeal.
Next year will be a challenging year for both our state and nation. While many of us were highly disappointed by the results of the November elections, we simply have to move forward. The past few years have seen horrible attacks on LGBTs and tragic deaths of youth, yet there have also been historic advances for our community. Our community’s hard work and the support of leaders in Congress have resulted in the repeal of DADT. Much work remains to be done in guaranteeing equality to the LGBT community, and all of us should be engaged in this battle. If we continue to work for equality in our communities, regardless of who’s leading our government, we will be successful.
Contact Gov.-elect Rick Snyder’s office to ask him to support the effort to grant employee benefits to domestic partners of State employees at http://www.governorelectricksnyder.com/contact-us and (517) 241-3318
Thank President Obama for ending DADT, and ask him to implement the repeal as quickly as possible: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact.