By this time next week, Michiganders will have already voted in the Aug. 7 primaries. However, in anticipation of that vote, Between The Lines reached out to each of the three Democratic gubernatorial candidates — Gretchen Whitmer, Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar — to get their thoughts on LGBTQ issues and their priorities in the social justice arena as a last-minute update to undecided voters.
Below are the answers Thanedar provided in his interview with BTL.
Each of the gubernatorial candidates running has put forth progressive, pro-equality messages. Why should an LGBTQ voter vote for you?
A lot of what I talk is the life that I have lived. I've lived in poverty, I came as an immigrant, I am a person of color. I am a person that emigrated, so I have experienced some of the discriminatory practices. So, these are not just talking points. I have lived a life where I've had to deal with discrimination based on my national origin. I have had to deal with discrimination based on who I am and what I look like. So, I come with an extra sensitivity from those who grew up in privilege and who have not experienced what I have experienced. Secondly, I am a man of action. I am a man of my words and I have made things happen more than talking. I'm not a career politician. I have run small businesses for the last 26 years so that makes me the candidate who has the most executive experience running things, hiring people. So, my opponents have not hired anybody, never put a team together. They can talk about talking points and hiring discrimination, but I've dealt with it. I have hired hundreds of people, I have set human resource politics for my companies, so I have lived a life, I have the experience, I have the ability to do things and make a difference for the benefit of the LGBTQ+ community.
Do you believe that your business background gives you an edge in this race?
Absolutely. I'm a scientist first of all. I have a Ph.D. in chemistry, so I'm a scientist and I also have an MBA, so my thinking is different. I think very common sense, I think very pragmatically. I'm very good at decision making, I'm very good at solving problems. I'm very good at making things happen, finding a solution. I'm very good at sitting down with people of different opinions, of different viewpoints and I'm comfortable having them all at my table when I facilitate to hammer out the best possible solution to these issues and problems. And many of the problems are complex and don't have simple solutions. It's not just an ideology. It's more about doing the right thing, being fair, being equitable. I have a great sense of fairness and I have lived a life of transparency and fairness and ethics. Not just talking points but having a lifetime of accomplishments.
What do you think is the most important issue surrounding LGBTQ rights right now?
One of the critical things is the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976. And there have been attempts to modify it, to amend it, to provide full rights to the LGBTQ community. And those efforts have failed. I want to provide leadership to have pro-LGBTQ and build past and expand Elliott-Larsen. Because it's the right thing to do and it's the fair thing to do. I would use the power of my office to stand behind the community and make that happen to amend Elliott-Larsen to include full rights so that the community is not discriminated against.
Amending Elliott-Larsen is still highly controversial. Why do you think it's important that the average Michigander supports amending it to include gender identity and sexual orientation?
We are one of the many, 15, 18, states that don't have full protection. My goal is to take our state to the top, to make Michigan one of the top states in the nation. In terms of economic progress, in terms of a good place to live. For our people to want to come to Michigan. I want people to have a higher quality of life. We are a state where we have abundant natural resources and yet our state population has been flat over the decades, and I want to create a state that has economic prosperity. That has the ability to (host an) entrepreneurial culture, a startup culture. And I want to create a state that has the top education and the best infrastructure and has the best civil rights. That is part of improving the quality of life, and giving people the freedom to live and choose the lifestyles they so desire. And having a state this is progressive that is inclusive will take us to the next level. The only way to do this is to be fair and have expanded civil rights to all people. And by doing that, we make our state attractive for people from different communities to come and want to be part of it and live their life and live the American dream in the state of Michigan.
If elected how will you ensure that women can continue to get the services offered by organizations like Planned Parenthood?
I am a pro-choice candidate. I am an enthusiastically, 100 percent pro-choice candidate. I believe a woman has the right to choose and make decisions about her health care and the government has no place or right to interfere in a woman's choice and a woman's decision about her body. I also firmly believe that, you know, the feminine needs, contraceptives, all of that should be covered under health insurance. I'm 100 percent supportive of Planned Parenthood and the services they offer. I will protect their existence, their rights and protect and support Planned Parenthood. And it's certainly a part of my overall philosophy of letting people live their lives the way they want to live and letting them do what they want to do without traditional discrimination or otherwise. I want our laws expanded to protect the rights of freedom and human rights.
Regarding other hotly contested issues like bathroom bills and HIV criminalization, what will you do to prevent further alienation of the LGBTQ community if elected?
Something like bathroom use, it's a matter of convenience, it's a matter of rights, it's a matter of treating people fairly of all communities. My thought is that we (should) ask the different communities how they would like it to be handled. And, again, I speak from experience. One of my employees at one time chose to change her gender. I heard some discomfort and some questions in the other employees' minds. As soon as I heard that there was some issue, I stood up for her and I talked with people. I absolutely made sure that we did not discriminate (against) her. She has a right to make a decision about her life and her gender. And we were ready to support whatever she chose to decide. To diffuse the situation, I made it a point to let people know why this is fair and why it's a fairness issue and respect issue. We were able to work with her and when the bathroom issue came up we simply asked, "How does she want it to be handled?" She proposed what she wanted to be done and that's how we handled it. We accepted it. I think that's what I would do, I would ask the community how they would like it to be handled and we need to have compassion, we need to have humane policies, we need to have fairness and we need to deal with these issues as we are one big family. We are not going to separate us on these issues and we are going to stay together. Michigan is just one big family. I feel like I am the head of the household of this big family and if a certain part of my family has issues, we will deal with that with compassion and fairness.
You're a grandparent. Do you feel that that has influenced the way in which you do politics? And if so, do you think this influence will change you will govern if elected?
Yes, it did. As a grandparent I want to make sure our great lakes are clean and pure, our soil is clean and pure, our air is clean and pure, our environment is clean and pure. I see my grandson and how he enjoys and learns and has a tremendous ability to acquire knowledge, and I have proposed an early childhood education, universal pre-K and a universal free childcare plan. That's so single parents can go back to work and have assistance for child care. I also want my grandson to grow up in a safe and a fair and equitable environment with full civil rights and a free society. I want to make Michigan inclusive and certainly seeing my grandson has helped me underscore these issues.