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More than 150 people from across Michigan had a message for Gov. Rick Snyder and the state legislature Wednesday: “Gay families matter.” The was the message they hoped their state lawmakers would hear and act on after a year that saw the most anti-gay legislative action in Michigan history.
The rally was organized by a coalition of LGBT community centers from across the state. People from centers in Ann Arbor, Benton Harbor, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Saginaw and Detroit were present at the event.
“We are homeowners. We’re taxpayers and we’re resident of the state of Michigan,” Curtis Lipscomb, executive director of the group KICK, told the crowd. “We deserve the same rights as heterosexual families.”
Zachary Bauer, executive director of the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center, said lawmakers are trying undermine democracy.
“They took away your voice,” he said. “They took away your vote.”
David Garcia, executive director of Affirmations, an LGBT community center in Ferndale, blasted sponsors of anti-gay legislation as “moral hypocrites.”
“Anytime that someone works to deny the rights of group – rights that they enjoy – they are a moral hypocrite,” Garcia said. “The gay agenda is not so tough. I can sum it up in two points. One, equality. Two, see number one.”
But Garcia also pleaded for heterosexuals who support equality for the LGBT community to “come out of the closet.”
“The straight community must get off the sidelines and act,” he said.
State Rep. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) stopped by the rally.
“To take these rights away is a great step backwards, I think,” he told the crowd. “We are together and we are mighty.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Snyder, who is under growing pressure and criticism from the LGBT community, did not make an appearance, at least not intentionally.
As the rally was getting under way, Snyder exited the state Capitol. He was greeted by boos and chants of “Gay families matter!” He smiled and waived at the crowd; a Michigan State Police security escort stood between the governor and the protesters.
Snyder has come under fire for signing legislation that prohibits public employers from offering health benefits to the unmarried partners of public employees. Snyder claims he made the decision to sign the bill based on economic concerns for the state’s budget.
On Tuesday, The American Independent reported that Snyder’s office has repeatedly denied requests for an interview about LGBT issues in the state. Interview requests have similarly been denied to TAI media partners Between the Lines Newspapers and Lansing Online News. Communications officials from the governor’s office have yet to provide possible dates for such an interview.
Shortly after Snyder passed the rally, State Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville) – who sponsored the legislation denying partner benefits – exited the building. He too was greeted with boos and “Gay families matters!” Protesters followed Agema a block down Michigan Avenue from the Capitol, chanting and waving signs.
Later, Agema posted the following on his Facebook page:
It was an interesting day today. When I left the Captial I was swarmed with gay men screaming hate at me for the elimination of same sex/unmarried benefits. It seems the hate they hate they have.
Agema has been hostile not only to the LGBT community, but also to undocumented residents. Last fall he spoke at a rally featuring an alleged former terrorist. Agema has introduced legislation that requires employers and contractors to use the federal E-Verify system, which immigration activists say is riddled with problems. He has also introduced legislation modeled after Arizona’s controversial immigration law.
The state legislature currently has three pieces of legislation targeting the LGBT community, according to a press release from Equality Michigan.
First is HB 5039, introduced by Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills). If passed, this law would force local communities that have passed inclusive local human rights ordinances on discrimination to strip those laws down to the state’s less inclusive law. It would also prohibit local communities from adding any other protected category not included in the state law.
Second is SB 518, introduced by Sen. Tupac Hunter (D-Detroit). This legislation would force counseling and psychology programs at state universities from discriminating against any student who objects to counseling LGBT students because of moral convictions. This law would supersede the codes of professional conduct to which these university programs adhere. In an interview with TAI’s former sister site Michigan Messenger, Hunter said he would not support a white nationalist using his or her sincerely held religious beliefs to discriminate against a person of color, even though the legislation would in fact allow that to happen.
Third is HB 4889, introduced by Rep. Tom Hooker (R-Byron Center). This legislation would prohibit medically necessary sex reassignment surgery for people in some state programs, including prisons. In earlier reporting on the issue, Michigan Messenger showed that gender reassignment surgery is not an option in the Michigan Department of Corrections.
Not noted by the Equality Michigan release was new legislation introduced by Agema, a former pilot, which would eliminate the state’s Healthy Michigan Fund Initiative. The fund provides the state’s matching dollars for HIV prevention and care dollars, and without it, the state would be unable to receive federal cash for HIV care. Agema’s bill would move the funding to airport care.