No stranger to duking it out, Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Gretchen Whitmer is showing up for the LGBTQ fight.
“That’s one of the first and most important things to do is show up,” says Whitmer. “I don’t mean to just oversimplify the art of a successful campaign, but showing up is half the battle. When we show up for one another’s fights, we quickly find that we are the majority in Michigan and we inspire people to come out and vote,” she says.
Whitmer has shown up in various ways by leading negotiations for Democrats to expand Medicaid. She told her own story of surviving sexual assault to fight back against “Rape Insurance,” she led the 12,000-person “Right to Work” protest, and introduced in 2012 the Michigan 2020 plan to give every high school student free tuition at one of the state’s public universities or community colleges through a grant that would have been paid for by closing tax loopholes.
Whitmer has been a proven fighter for the LGBTQ community. The former State Senate Minority Leader championed an anti-bullying law to make sure children are not tormented for who they are – and when some politicians tried to insert a religious exemption, she fought them and won. Whitmer’s work has helped schools and student groups across Michigan get proactive in how to handle – and prevent – the bullying of LGBTQ students both in and out of the classroom.
Whitmer led the efforts prior to the marriage equality ruling to provide benefits to same-sex partners of public employees and stood with the countless Michigan residents in outrage when Governor Rick Snyder banned them.
Whitmer was a leading voice against Attorney General Bill Schuette’s decision to waste millions of taxpayer dollars on his crusade to stop marriage equality in the courts. She sponsored legislation to expand Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity and said she will prioritize that as governor.
Whitmer was awarded the Catalyst Award by Equality Michigan in 2012 for her unwavering support of Michigan’s LGBTQ community and served as the Grand Marshall for the Motor City Pride Parade.
In the latest general election poll, Whitmer is in a dead heat with presumptive Republican candidate Bill Schuette at 37-37. In the public primary polling, Whitmer is well ahead of all other candidates: Whitmer 27, Bill Cobbs 8, Abdul El-Sayed 4, Shri Thanedar 3.
Whitmer talks with BTL about tackling the list of long-standing LGBTQ issues and her idea of a Michigan where everyone can get ahead, where everyone is protected and respected and where everyone has opportunity.
“That’s the Michigan I’m fighting for. It’s why I jumped in this race,” she says. “We deserve better. It’s been a long time since Michiganders have had someone in their corner.”
What role(s) do you see for LGBTQ Michiganders in any future administration and other appointments if you were to win?
Every community across our state needs to have a seat at the table. I will be the kind of governor whose always going to ensure that I have a cabinet that is diverse and representative of the population of our state. That means the LGBTQ community as well, obviously. But that also extends to appointments to commissions, to the bench, in every way that we can use the power of the executive office to lift people up and make sure that everyone’s got a voice. I am eager to do that. I’ve always done that in terms of leadership offices that I’ve held and the campaign that I’m running
Do you support the voluntary guidance approved last year by the State Board of Education to assist schools in creating environments where LGBTQ students can live, learn and thrive?
It is imperative that we as a state are ensuring that every child in every school district has the support they need to be successful – no matter how they identify or what their sexual orientation is. It matters not. The education of our children is the backbone of our economy and our society so that’s why as a Democratic leader I went to the microphone to push anti-bullying protections for kids in our schools. I made the tough arguments that need to be made. It’s incumbent on our leaders to fight for the children of our state. That means every child.
Do you support LGBTQ-inclusive sex education curriculum, including frank discussions on how to avoid HIV infection beyond just abstinence?
Are you willing to fight at the state level to allow students to use bathroom and sports facilities that concur with their gender identity?
It’s the mom in me. All I care about is whether or not you wash your hands.
Gretchen Whitmer at Michigan Pride in Lansing in June
What would you do in your role as governor to help support GSAs in Michigan schools?
We’ve got to make it a priority that organizations can form and that they have the support from the people at the top. My daughters are in a Gender Equity Club at their high school. They’ve had conversations and have thought leaders and it’s empowering for students of every walk of life and I think that’s a really important part of education. As a freshman and a sophomore, the kind of dialogue they’re engaged in with their peers gives me such hope for our future. That when our young people are empowered to engage in such a thoughtful way, it’s really encouraging.
What’s your view on term limits (which impact our current and future LGBTQ legislators plus the dramatic drop in women in Lansing) and how do we fix it?
We have to amend our constitution and we need to. In every other walk of life, experience is something that’s valued. You never go in to have brain surgery and request the freshest surgeon out of medical school. Experience is really important and relationships are important. When we have amazing legislators like Representative [Jeremy] Moss or Representative [Jon] Hoadley – of course there are many others that are examples – it should be up to their constituents whether or not they continue serving, not some arbitrary term limit law. We’re paying a big price for that right now in Michigan because our relationships are harder to form and because of that, people don’t have expertise and I think that you get debates that are ideological and not really based on fact and forward looking policy.
How will you expand non-religious based adoption options for LGBTQ couples?
First, we need to stop all the attacks. That means being a governor who is strong enough to use the veto pen when the legislature sends ideological legislation to hurt us. Second, it is about really pushing and being advocates to ensure that our laws make it easier for couples to adopt and are protected. That our tax dollars are not being misused to push someone’s ideological agenda and that we really are connecting kids with loving homes.
As a mom, a former prosecutor and legislator, I am committed to doing everything in my power to ensure that children in need of a safe, loving home can get connected to a home environment where they can thrive. It is unconscionable to deny a child access to a safe and loving home based on the gender or sexual orientation of the parents.
Beyond changing “License to Discriminate” laws, what do you think can be done to close the chasm between the LGBTQ community and some religious communities?
There are a lot of people of faith who are also very active in the LGBTQ community. We need to get to a place where we’re talking about what’s important and that’s the welfare of the child. Getting the child out of a system and into a home where they’ve got support and can thrive. That should be the core around which we can all find common ground, and I think it can be. It takes leadership. It takes a leader who is unafraid to make that the centerpiece of the discussion and to keep people focused on that being the centerpiece of the discussion. I see so many ideological debates happening that miss the core goal, which should be the education of our children or the safety of our kids or ensuring that every child has opportunity. That should be what we’re focused on.
Would you support the decriminalization of HIV status? More specifically, State Rep. Jon Hoadley’s (D-Kalamazoo) legislation that would repeal Michigan’s HIV specific felony law and replace it?
When it comes to any public health issue, my priority is that we get people the treatment they need, prevent transmission, and keep people safe. Michigan’s current HIV law does not fulfill those goals. Instead, the law criminalizes people for having a disease while not actually fixing the problem, and it needs to be reevaluated, which is why I support Rep. Hoadley’s initiative that would modernize the law and still retain the tools we need to prosecute those who knowingly harm others.
Visit Democratic Gubernatorial Forum on LGBTQ and Women’s Issues in July, the other democratic candidates for governor – Bill Cobbs, Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar – took questions from over 15 statewide organizations and nonprofits co-sponsoring the event hosted by Stonewall for Revolution. The forum, which Whitmer was unable to attend, was an opportunity for voters to hear from their Democratic candidates in the 2018 race for Michigan governor. The event, moderated by Between The Lines, is available to watch online.