Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
By Trevor Thomas
I was 19 years old when I came out. It was 2004. I had driven from my campus apartment at Grand Valley State to my parents’ house in Marne in the same Chevy Camaro I had once contemplated running into a tree. The altar-boy at St. Mary’s Catholic Church (third grade through sophomore year) knew that homosexuality was a sin, but suicide was, too.
Mom sat on the couch and Dad on the love seat. I debated if I should use the word “gay” – which I despised for its stigma – or “homosexual.”
I went with gay. Mom pulled my college funding.
Fast forward seven years later, it’s not all that much different today with Dave Agema, my hometown representative, trying to pull funding from public universities across the state. Agema’s recent amendment to an education budget bill will penalize our state schools and universities five percent if they offer any kind of financial assistance to lesbian and gay couples.
This is homophobia in action and it is hurting our kids and our state. Michigan’s unemployment rate continues to rank worst in the nation. Thousands have lost their jobs and had their pensions cut (including members of my own family), and anyone with a job is in fear of being the next on the chopping block. And we’ve been steadily losing population since 2006, according to the 2010 census report.
Our state desperately needs to attract young people as so many choose to attend schools and find much needed experience out of state. The homophobia isn’t helping. The Grand Rapids Press pointed out in a recent editorial that opposition to gay and lesbian partner benefits is the “wrong direction for Michigan as it seeks to broaden its appeal to young people in particular.”
We must recruit and educate the best and the brightest talent for our area schools and universities – not push people away with discriminatory measures. The generation of our parents helped put the world on wheels; we cannot allow a bigoted amendment to stop our path to progress.
Luckily, there are signs of hope from the Corporate Equality Index, which rates many of our nation’s leading companies on inclusive policies and benefits. The Big Three, for example, have always ranked at the top, recognizing the critical need to train and attract the best work force on the planet – including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Of the four companies in America jumping more than 30 points to attain 100 percent scores in 2011, two are from West Michigan: Steelcase Inc. and Kellogg Co. Both are leading the way in the private sector with a strong corporate ethos that recognizes that for their employees, this isn’t about “rights.” It’s about punching the clock and making sure their partner can get a mammogram or their kid can get a cavity filled.
Even President Gerald R. Ford, Grand Rapids’ “hometown son,” advocated for acceptance and recognition of for our gay brothers and sisters. In 2002, Ford joined the advisory board of the Republican Unity Coalition, a group of gay and straight allies working for more acceptance of LGBT Americans and issues within the Republican Party. At the time, Ford was asked by Detroit News reporter Deb Price if gay couples should receive equal benefits and he replied, “I think they ought to be treated equally. Period.”
Mr. Agema should look to our corporate neighbors and our local leaders and stop his legislative gay-bashing. Life is already full of challenges. God knows it is not easy for struggling youth who grow up feeling different – myself included.
In 2004, The Press published a letter I penned about my own struggles and an incident where strangers in a car tried to humiliate me for simply being myself – a gay man. At the time I wrote, “I understood where they were coming from. I, too, once thought those thoughts. But now I see things differently. I see a life, certainly harder, but a life of shamelessness. A life of hope.
Since then I have come into my own as a gay man and as a professional. My parents, too, have come a long way. I plan to return to Michigan soon. And I hope by the time I do, Dave Agema and other legislators will realize that laws that reinforce stigma don’t just kill jobs in our state, they can kill people. I understand this stigma. I’ve lived it, and before coming out I had even believed it. We must end the bullying and end Mr. Agema’s crusade against gay and lesbian people, now.