Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer and running mate Lisa Brown sat down with BTL publishers Jan Stevenson and Susan Horowitz prior to the Michigan Democratic Convention for a wide-ranging conversation about their campaign, what a Schauer/Brown administration would be like for the LGBT community and who would be included. They addressed LGBT civil rights, health issues, senior care, marriage equality and how both of them have come to be such vocal allies of the LGBT community. Here is a recap of Schauer’s words on these concerns.
BTL: You are strong supporters of the LGBT community. Why?
Schauer: For me it just goes back to the core values. My dad was a teacher; my mom was a nurse. They demonstrated compassion for others, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that it led me to a career in public service. I first ran an anti-poverty agency, administering Head Start for preschoolers, meals on wheels for seniors and job training for people looking for a ladder out of poverty.
What Lisa and I envision is the creation of OUR Michigan, one that values all people. It’s exciting to see the evolution of people in this country. It’s exciting that it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when we in this nation become an equality nation, and we in Michigan become a marriage equality state. I cannot wait. So it is part of a core value set. It’s about fairness. It’s about community for everyone.
One of the primary reasons for prejudice and negative stereotype and phobias is just a lack of understanding and OUR Michigan is one where we break down barriers, where we value and lift up all people. I was given the right value set — a belief that we value and respect everyone. I’ve had the chance to have great relationships with people in the LGBT community. And now I am in a position, or I will be in a position, to lead our state.
BTL: How do you think that differs from Gov. Snyder’s views?
Schauer: You know, the indifference and hatred expressed from leaders of the Republican Party in Michigan are astounding. I was thinking about [Republican National Committeeman] Dave Agema’s statements and lack of leadership from Gov. Snyder for not directly calling him out.
When I met Jayne [Rowse] and April [DeBoer], it was that day of the BTL Wedding Expo. I would challenge Dave Agema or Rick Snyder to meet them and come away not feeling like these are incredible individuals. I mean — I am biased towards nurses because my mother was a nurse — they are loving, committed parents of special needs kids and they are committed to each other and their family. And again I will go back to ignorance as a primary reason for the gross insensitivity and discrimination. It was an incredible experience to meet April and Jayne and to thank them for their courage and for being great parents, for kids that need loving parents.
When I was running for congress [in 2009], I worked closely with PFLAG in Jackson and Battle Creek. And through that I actually reconnected with a gentleman who was a teacher with my dad in Grand Blanc, where my dad taught most of his career. He was a fellow science teacher. I think he was a biology teacher; my father was a chemistry teacher. But their son committed suicide, and when they shared their story with me, it was an important eye-opener for me. We need to change our state in some pretty profound ways, and the fact that our current governor continues — even after the U.S. Supreme Court decision — to not recognize those 300 couples that were married that day, many of whom where married by Lisa, is a form of discrimination and insensitivity. But then further, to hear his hollow rhetoric about amending Elliott-Larsen [Civil Rights Act] underscores the fact that we need to change. Lisa and I, because of our core values, are about equality, and we will make sure that we sign into law a very strong amendment to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
BTL: Without a religious exemption?
Schauer: Yes. Exactly. Correct.
BTL: Can you describe how a Schauer/Brown administration would look to the LGBT community vs. the current Snyder/Calley administration?
Schauer: Our administration is going to look like and be like the people of our state, including members of the LGBT community. That is very important. And so, it will be in top administration positions, in key state appointed positions, in state government and in key staff positions. Just look at our campaign. I’ve actually lost count of the number of LGBT people on our campaign staff.
Gov. Snyder is running off qualified, talented people to help him run the state today. I know that for a fact. I recently met a lesbian and her partner. Not only can they not get married here, but she works for one of the state departments; I won’t say which one, but she does important work. And she said there is insensitivity within the department and among the leadership of the department that creates an unwelcome atmosphere. So she and her partner are considering moving. And I said, ‘Hang in there. Things are going to be different when I am governor and Lisa is Lt. Gov.’ We want to make sure we send a positive signal to current state employees who are members of the LGBT community that they are welcome, they are valued, we want their talent, we cannot afford to lose their talent. And, you know, that is going to be expressed in all kinds of ways. And we look forward to the opportunity to recruit that talent in top staff positions and throughout the state government.
BTL: I’m glad that you brought up the departments. One department the LGBT community often interfaces with is the Department of Health & Wellness. We don’t need to go over the history, but it has been a troubled one, especially with respect to HIV/AIDS — from funding cuts to outright hostility on LGBT issues. We need a better partner to help fight the virus in the LGBT community in Michigan, especially in young black gay men.
Schauer: My approach to public health has always been proactive and preventative. This is an incredible opportunity for us to improve public health at the grassroots community level, whether it is through local public health agencies or through primary care physicians.
BTL: The state currently endorses an abstinence only curriculum. We presume they hope that teenagers will never have sex again.
Schauer: Ha! I may look old, but I am not that old. I think it presents exciting health education opportunities and messaging by community based organizations. I used to run a community action agency, so I understand we need a host of community partners to help us.
BTL: LGBT community health issues include aging issues. Too many LGBT seniors go back into the closet when they enter senior care. And the level of abuse at the aging institutions has been abysmal. Especially for the generation in their 70s and 80s, it took them a great deal to come out. To have to then go back into the closet is devastating.
Schauer: We will run the office of aging services within the department of public health, and we can work together on a policy strategy that is really gonna matter.
BTL: That would make a huge impact on many people’s lives.
Schauer: Can I go back? I want to put the ‘seat at the table’ issue out. We talked about how we compose state government that is reflective of our state values and includes the LGBT community at all levels. But it is also about how we develop our policy agenda — I think that is very important. This current governor has shown that he surrounds himself with his special interest friends at the expense of regular Michiganders. We need to make sure we have the right people at the table, including the LGBT community, who can help us develop a policy agenda for this state, whether it is economic development, jobs, revitalizing our communities, education, healthcare — all of the above.