For the LGBTQ community, Jennifer V. Kurland’s race for governor is one to watch not only because of its progressive platform but especially because of her running mate: Charin H. Davenport. Beyond being a vocal activist for LGBTQ rights and affiliated with such organizations as Transgender Michigan, the ACLU of Michigan and the National Association for Transgender Equality, Davenport herself is transgender — meaning that her potential appointment as lieutenant governor would be unprecedented for both the state of Michigan and much of the U.S.
With the Nov. 6 midterm election coming up next week, there is still time for LGBTQ voters to familiarize themselves with both Kurland’s positions on a variety of important issues as well as Davenport’s. BTL caught up with her in the middle of a busy campaign schedule to chat about the issues that she believes are priorities in the gubernatorial race.
What makes you qualified to be lieutenant governor of Michigan?
I have a lot of experience in education. I taught high school in New York state for five years. After that, I moved to Michigan where I taught at Delta College in Bay City and at Saginaw Valley State University in Saginaw and I was there for about 10 years. Now I’m at Oakland University as a special lecturer in writing and rhetoric and this is my third year. I understand education at just about every level. … I also understand the perspective of parents and the children themselves — I have three children who all went to public schools and they did very well. … I also am a Vietnam era veteran. I served in the United States Navy from 1974 to 1981. I have a solid understanding of the value that veterans bring to our communities and the needs they have in order to be full participants in our communities. … Another thing I bring to the table is I have an understanding of what is commonly referred to as intersectionality. As the only veteran, I believe who is running, as well as the only transgender person who is in place and I think the only teacher, I understand how poverty, race, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and just one’s geography intersect and form not just our identities but also how they (affect lives).
What do you think is the value of having a member of the LGBTQ community at the table?
We are at a critical moment here in Michigan, economically, environmentally, in terms of education and we need everyone to participate. We cannot afford to say to people that we don’t need you at the table, we need everyone at the table. I think that that’s really critical. The other thing, too, is that, later on in life, these types of discrimination — and it’s not LGBTQ where this happens but it’s just that we have no recourse for civil rights law — this affects them as adults and their ability to be successful in their career … because they’ve learned from childhood onward that they’re not wanted, their voices, their opinions, their thoughts, their research — whatever it is that they bring to the table.
Why do you think it’s vital for Michiganders outside of the LGBTQ community to care about amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity? How will you help those who don’t understand its importance?
I think the awareness is there in Michigan. I don’t think the awareness of what the actual civil rights protections are, I don’t think people are aware of that. I talk to people every day as a candidate and very few people are aware of what is at stake. I find it ironic in the bitterest of ways that I can run for lieutenant governor and actually be the lieutenant governor in a state that does not recognize me as a full person in society … because they will not allow me to participate. My aim, my candidacy is a direct challenge (to that). … It’s too easy to blame Republicans or blame Democrats for not putting something a little more progressive at least … or for blocking the much-needed updates to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. However, what we haven’t seen are coalitions in the House and the Senate especially. Depending on the outcome of the November elections, we cannot assume that once we get a Democratic majority in the House or the Senate or maybe in the governor’s seat that somehow there’s going to be this Democratic agenda.
Why did you choose to run as Jennifer Kurland’s running mate?
I believe that Jennifer Kurland understands what I understand: for any bill to come to us, whether it’s a civil rights bill or an economic or tax or road or whatever, the House and the Senate are going to have to figure out a way to build those coalitions to give us a bill that we will sign or that we will want or that we will also advocate for. So far, I have not seen anything from any candidate that indicates the desire to work in that fashion. It’s nice to say it, but let’s be honest, Gretchen Whitmer and her lieutenant governor, if they are elected, are going to be working for the Democratic party. It’s not a secret because that’s what they do and that’s what Republicans do. With the Green party, and I know this may sound like a cliché, but we’re obligated to our constituency which are the people of Michigan. We don’t have corporate sponsors, we don’t have seats in the House and Senate yet, certainly not in the majority. So, we feel strongly that coalition-building is the key to moving Michigan in the right direction.
You’re not the only candidate in this race who has pledged to support LGBTQ rights. Why should the LGBTQ community choose you?
I think that I would be worried if I were a Michigan voter that we just keep electing the same mold or the same iteration of politicians. Jennifer and I come from working-class backgrounds. We understand voters, we understand people who have to work day in and day out who have to get school supplies for their children to do all the things that parents do. We understand that, and we live it. Does Gretchen Whitmer put out a progressive agenda? That’s a great campaign slogan, this idea of the blue wave and so on, but what we’re really talking about here with the Green party is more than a gentle wave coming ashore. Something more than just progressive, but rather … a future (where) we stick with what works. But that requires flexibility and adaptability and you can only have that if you work with coalitions.
If elected, what’s one of the first issues you’ll try to tackle when you’re first in office?
I would be lying if it wasn’t the civil rights issue regarding LGBTQ community of Michigan. … That’s so much of the forefront of my life and has been and will continue to be until we reach that goal. I think beyond that, probably the most important thing is this kind of social equity. We can’t have cities with gleaming high schools and all the amenities that go with that while other school districts are facing water shut-offs such as in Detroit and what happened in Flint. We cannot expect our children, our future, to thrive in an environment where they feel like they have to lift their feet off of the floor. I’ve taught in schools where students literally had to do that because of rodents. I’ve taught in schools where the windows were broken and boarded up to try to keep out the cold air because the heating system was inadequate or where the air conditioning didn’t work on a 95-degree day. We can’t expect those children to perform well on their ACTs or SATs or on their MEAPs or on whatever tests that they take. We cannot expect them to perform at the same level when they’re hungry, they’re cold and their school is a dilapidated mess. There is no excuse for that. There cannot be any argument that makes that acceptable. I think education if I had to pick one thing, it would be education without a doubt.
If elected how will you ensure that women can continue to get the services offered by organizations like Planned Parenthood?
I want to be very clear about this, a woman’s health care, to ever think that it is not just as important as the health care of a man is absurd. It’s just absurd. Planned Parenthood and organizations like it play a vital role in Michigan where we have pockets of poverty where health access is not easy for many, many people. And, let’s look at the rural areas of Michigan, too. It’s not just an urban issue. When you go north of Lansing, except for a few areas like Traverse City or maybe Marquette, access to services is extremely difficult for many, many people. So, access to health care is not, and should never be, tied to someone’s gender or gender identity or race or economic status. I wish that we didn’t have to have an organization to protect the health care of women, but we do because health care concerns for women are in many cases unique to women. But the decisions that are being made about women’s health care are being made by men. That needs to stop. And I would be opposed to any idea that would stand in the way of Planned Parenthood of doing their job. It is a woman’s right to choose what to do. It is her body and that really is how I absolutely feel about that.
Being that you’re a member of the Green party, what are some environmental concerns that you have?
I would like to see a moratorium on all fracking, laying of pipelines and drilling for oil in Michigan until we have some kind of master plan to protect the precious resources of this state that exist not just in surface water and not just in farmland but in the bedrock of Michigan below the surface. How can our farmers compete when the water they’re using is contaminated? How can our agricultural community compete when, in Michigan of all places, they won’t know if they’ll have water while Nestle pulls water out unlimited and makes hundreds of millions of dollars on their bottled water? That water is there for a purpose and it’s not to put into plastic bottles that end up in our lakes and streams, that’s for sure. That water is (what) our agriculture needs, our environment needs it, it’s absolutely critical. And our hunters, it’s difficult to go hunting when the animal that you go hunting no longer has an environment in which it can thrive. I absolutely support hunters, the responsible use of guns and I think that environment is a key. All of this goes back to education. The more our students know, the better educated they are, the brighter our future becomes. Public education does that. It’s the only thing that can do that.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.