Speaking with Robert VanKirk

"A better Michigan starts with you." That's the campaign slogan for Robert VanKirk, who is running for 77th State House District currently held by Republican Rep. Tommy Brann. A major part of his platform is standing up to oppression in any form and balance the scales. Much of his recent years have even included anti-bullying workshops and talks about what the residents can do to stop bullying in their areas. However, much of this mentality and drive to protect "the little guy" started when VanKirk was in high school. "I was very active when I was very young," VanKirk said, "both in politics and in helping my community."
That's when he focused on LGBT activism, founding a prom in Michigan for high school students regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. It was held at the Grand Ledge Opera House, and he managed to raise over $10,000 dollars for it, joining together several LGBT alliances over the project.
"What was rewarding for me was seeing people who normally couldn't go to the prom have this experience with their significant other or as their gender identity. People were coming up from Indiana even to attend this prom," he said. "This was really moving."
At Michigan State University, VanKirk participated heavily in student government. One major issue he combatted was when the university tried to distribute funding for events off campus, even at the risk of many diversity organizations. Still, he worked to found an LGBT ministry on campus, now an acumenical Christian ministry.
"In grad school," VanKirk said, "I became part of the Council of Grad Students. The university was stressing we'd have to raise the cost of the health care, and we had some issues with that, so we had to fight it. The exec board all wanted jobs in college administration, so they were very compliant with the university's demands. So in the next election, we voted them all out so we had people representing students. This was the first student government that entirely went against the demands of the college," VanKirk said. "The university was taking advantage of grad students continuously. There were points where it was so blatant and flagrant. They eventually sent a representative to explain why they were taking down graduate housing on campus, sharing how wonderful the new places would be, how the grounds will be gorgeous, and they said, 'The cost will be whatever the market will bear.'"
However, VanKirk also wants to fight that kind of systematic bullying at the state level, working on budget adjustment and fixing college affordability.
"The state has shirked its responsibility to provide affordable education," VanKirk said. "The arc of my story is I get really pissed when someone big and powerful picks on and screws with someone less powerful. I've seen it in my working career as a manager in retail, and I've seen it in my education, my grad work, my undergrad, and my high school."
Regarding more national affairs, VanKirk is hopeful for the future of LGBT representation. "We saw the first trans person elected to the state legislature in the history of the U.S. It's a big policy change. She beat a conservative incumbent. Not only was the first trans person elected, but they beat a Republican incumbent who fought against her right to survive."
But VanKirk believes that victory was due to dealing with "bread-and-butter issues," like traffic concerns and infrastructure.
"By focusing on the issues people need to survive, sometimes you end up winning," VanKirk said.
Regarding ways to help, VanKirk promotes awareness. Being vocal about issues you care about can even shape the actions of larger institutions.
"A big thing is I'm not getting – and candidates like me are not getting – a lot of money from the traditional institutions of the Democratic party. The party is providing their thoughts and prayers. That's all they're offering. The state house PACs aren't going to give any money. They're going to focus on areas that are more democratic. A big part of our campaign is small-dollar fundraiser," VanKirk said. "Give to candidates like that, grassroots people running for office because the wheels of the political system are not turning for us."
And building off that, VanKirk encourages people to vote for the everyday citizen if they're tired of politics.
"Another thing they can do is host house parties. Another thing is helping us to doorknock and actually campaign events," VanKirk said. "You can attend phone banking events. It is your government."
To support VanKirk's campaign, visit Follow him on Facebook at


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