With just under two weeks to go before Michigan’s midterm elections on Nov. 6, LGBTQ voters are gearing up to cast their ballots for candidates who pledge to support the community. BTL caught up with Green party candidate for governor Jennifer V. Kurland to gauge her support for LGBTQ rights. Check out this Q&A with her running mate Charin H. Davenport.
Below are the answers Kurland provided.
You’re not the only candidate in this race who has pledged to support LGBTQ rights. Why should the LGBTQ community choose you?
I’ll speak to my background. I’ve been at least on the outskirts of the LGBTQIA forever. I have a cousin who is trans. And when all the marches for equality and things like that were going on in the 2000s, I actually went to D.C. in 2009 and I marched on Washington for the National Equality March. I’ve always been a proponent for LGBTQIA rights. My running mate Char Davenport is trans and she’s the first trans person running for statewide office in Michigan. I mean, it’s never been a question for me. It’s always been in my history. I’ve donated to Affirmations when they were first getting the building together.
With regard to highly contested issues like bathroom use for the transgender community, what are your plans on ensuring that there is proper legislation put in place to protect those communities?
When we talk about this bathroom issue, I serve on my local school board and that’s something that we have been directly faced with. There’s a couple of things that I’ve done as an elected official. We recently went through and completely overhauled all of our bylaws and we were going through some of our protection pieces and I made sure that we included protections for our LGBTQIA students. … I think that as a state, one thing that we have to do is, aside from expanding the Elliott-Larsen (Civil Rights Act), we need to make sure that the Michigan Department of Civil Rights has teeth and has the ability to enforce Elliott-Larsen more than just an interpretation of the law. That they’re given really more authority over civil rights issues because the LGBTQIA issues are also parallel to issues of race. And, especially when we look at where those intersect, we have people who are even more vulnerable.
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?
Just on a basic level, having Char as my running mate is going to help with that because Char speaks to that directly because that impacts her. … Even though we have court rulings that say it does protect people who are trans, it does not necessarily protect people who are trans. So, Char, even as someone who is running for one of the highest offices in the state of Michigan, is not protected as an equal citizen in the state of Michigan. … I have been involved in politics since I was 19, so I’ve had a 20-year history of being involved in Michigan politics, and one of the things that I think has changed in promoting gay rights was the coming out movement. The coming out movement, just creating visibility of people, the general population who had at first been homophobic – and of course that’s still around — that’s drastically changed. People learning that their neighbors and their cousins and their children are part of that community and are LGBTQIA and are identifying as that, is really what helped change how people looked at the LGBTQIA community. So, as we continue to campaign on the west side of the state, up north and everywhere else, just having that visibility is going to help change that perspective. Because people will see Char as a person first, as someone who is a potential lieutenant governor second and third, as someone who is trans who is also like them.
What do you think is your unique edge in this race?
I have the most diverse background of anyone that’s running. I’ve worked for three years for Clean Water Action, so I have a background as an environmental activist. I’ve worked in banking for over 10 and I worked in retail banking — specifically in a local branch as an assistant manager and as a manager working with small business owners and just working with everyday working class people through the great recession. And I took a 15-year journey to finish my degree in political science and public affairs. I have a background in civic leadership, I have been active in the Junior Chamber (of Commerce), in the Jaycees, and have held local positions as well as state positions and I’m an elected official. And I’ve been on the school board for the past six years. I served as president for three and a half, and I’ve also been on the ground in Flint since the beginning. I’m on hiatus right now, but I have a radio show called “The Offensive Feminist with Jenny K” and I’ve done 100 episodes on politics, political issues, current events and things that have been happening around our state. And I actually spent six months and created a documentary on the Flint water crisis. I don’t think there’s anyone currently running for this office that knows more about Flint than I do. So, I think, overall, what people are looking for in a candidate is someone who understands finance, who understands the budget who can make sure we’re not going crazy. They’re looking for someone who can protect people, and who understands how small businesses work, not how big corporations work. Someone who can actually help small business owners, and they’re looking for someone who actually has experience as an elected official. And someone who has all of those abilities rolled into one is myself.
If elected how will you ensure that women can continue to get the services offered by organizations like Planned Parenthood?
There’s currently not enough federal and state money going to women’s health and LGBTQIA health. Because there are certainly different health issues when it comes to someone who is intersex and for people who are trans. So we really need to look at that overarching issue. Number one, how does the state provide healthcare for all? And number two, if the state is providing health care for all how does the state make sure that there is equitable care for all and how do we make sure that religion is not part of the health equation? Because the biggest issue when it comes to things like Planned Parenthood is if you have a religious objection to Planned Parenthood because of a religious objection to abortion. And too often that’s not separated enough. The people who are anti-choice they are anti-choice for a religious aspect and we have a separation of church and state in our country. That should also include health care.
If elected, what is one issue you’re especially dedicated toward tackling first?
My number one issue is fixing Flint. That’s the first thing that’s really on the top of my list. But, specifically to the LGBTQIA community, it would be sitting down with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and with local leaders around the state who are LGBTQIA and figuring out how and what we need to do to give the Civil Rights Commission teeth. Because I’m a collaborative leader. … When you’re making policy issues it’s important to have everybody around the table. So, when talking about expanding the Elliott-Larsen (Civil Rights) Act and how we can give the Michigan Department of Civil Rights teeth? That would be bringing in leaders from the community and Commission and seeing what do we need to do legislatively to make change. And what do we need to do within the commission to make change, and how to make sure we are protecting our most vulnerable citizens. Especially the people at the intersection between LGBTQIA and race. We really need to make sure we have additional protections. That includes making sure that we have additional policies that go everywhere including jobs, housing and including police policies. And how people who are LGBTQIA are treated in the prison system because that’s something that’s not talked about and that’s a huge, huge issue.