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Meet the Candidates

By | 2010-07-22T09:00:00-04:00 July 22nd, 2010|News|

by Jessica Carreras

Virg Bernero

Credentials: Degree in political science from Adrian College. Served as an Ingham County commissioner for eight years. Served for four years as a development officer for Alma College and as executive director for the Michigan Association for Children with Emotional Disorders. Was a legislative aide to Michigan state Sen. James Berryman. Served as a state representative and a state senator, and as mayor of Lansing since 2005.

Notable endorsements: United Auto Workers, Michigan Education Association; Equality Michigan; Michigan Democratic Party LGBT Caucus; Lansing Association for Human Rights; Progressive Women’s Alliance; Planned Parenthood of Michigan

Why do you care about protecting, serving and fighting for equality for the LGBT community?

It’s personal with me. Maybe I wouldn’t have given a lot of thought to it if my brother Victor hadn’t have been a gay man – growing up with Victor and seeing the discrimination and sometimes suffering the discrimination a little by extension, because of the homophobia in our youth. I watched when he was called names and picked on, and the discrimination he suffered even as an adult sometimes, being an out gay man. So it just comes naturally.
I’m in politics to stand up for people – especially people who need help, who need to have their rights asserted, so it’s a natural thing to be concerned about the civil rights for the LGBT community.

How do you believe you’ve proven your commitment to the LGBT community?

I’ve befriended the LGBT community, I’ve availed myself of the community where I live in Lansing so that I can be aware of what’s going on, and so that I can be of help. I’ve introduced legislation to extend Elliott-Larsen protections for gender identification and sexual orientation. I’ve supported the anti-bullying legislation, I’ve supported funding for AIDS research and so on. I received the Ray of Light Award from the local community. I’ve hired members of the LGBT community. And, of course, I had a hand in passing the human rights ordinance in the city of Lansing, I’m proud to say.

What will you do for the gay community if you are elected as Michigan’s next governor?

We have a lot of work to do, and many of the efforts that I started as a legislator, the battle has to go on to get those things done. Of course, it starts with having a cabinet and a staff that reflects the diversity of Michigan, so I’m sure that my cabinet and staff will include members of the LGBT community. That’s one of the first things, and that’s important – to surround yourself with the right people. And then we’ll pick up the battle for equal rights as I was fighting for them in the legislature.
My commitment as governor is that I’ll be working with the community. They’ll be partners with me, they’ll be represented in my staff and we will partner to try to advance the cause of equal rights and equal protection.

Several important LGBT-related bills have languished in the Michigan legislature for years – Matt’s Safe Schools, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act amendment, second-parent adoption. How will you work to create bipartisan support in the legislature on these issues to ensure that they are finally passed?

That is a question I get a lot about every area – whether it’s education, road funding – you name it. The issue comes back to getting beyond the partisan gridlock. And that comes down to my record of effectiveness. I’ve been able to get things done. I have a lot of experience – as a county commissioner, state representative, state senator and now, as mayor – of bringing people together. Again, we have to work together in partnership with the LGBT community. I think on some of this stuff, we’re going to have to think way outside the box. We’re going to have to make unconventional approaches, non-traditional appeals.
Every legislator is related to, or is good friends with somebody from the LGBT community. Now, I can’t tell you I can prove that, but I believe that. I think we have to talk about and work with the community on how we build on those connections.
We have to distinguish between the legislators for whom it means reanalyzing their convictions or asking them to move away from their convictions, or where it’s a matter of helping bolster some of the members to get the courage of their convictions. There may be those that really agree with us on greater equal rights and greater protection, but for some political reason, think that it might be harmful. So that’s where you get into really effective political communication and helping people to understand that the public is moving toward greater tolerance and understanding about human rights and equal rights.

What do you think is the most important issue to address in regard to LGBT equality in our state?

I think that the relationship equality is crucial. That’s just my opinion. I’m interested in engaging more with the community to set our legislative agenda, but I think relationship equality and the issue of health care benefits – especially as health benefits become harder to get. That has such a great impact on one’s economic status as well, with the high cost of health care.
How we advance that whole thing is going to be important, both for human rights, for the quality of life issues of individuals, and also for the economy of the state. I really believe, as Michigan struggles and we work to come out of this economy, that relationship equality could be a way that we could turn around the job loss and population loss – to become a more welcoming state and become more LGBT friendly.

It’s been suggested that creating a more welcoming, inclusive state will drive more LGBT and allied people to choose to live in Michigan, and therefore bring a lot of talent to our state. Do you agree with that statement?

I absolutely do. You talk about attracting creative, successful people and growing the economy, you’re talking about the LGBT community.
I’ve been all around the state now, and I’ve been to some cities that I’d never been to before, and I’m impressed with Michigan’s beauty. It’s a big state with lots of room to grow. Of course, I come from a city that is very tolerant and very inclusive and, coincidentally, doing better than most communities in Michigan. We have Michigan State, which is just a wellspring of ideas and ingenuity and innovation, and people from all over the world. So I think we have to build on that, to make a whole state that is welcoming, inclusive, tolerant – but beyond tolerant. I’m really not a big fan on the word tolerance because I’m more interested in welcoming and being fair to all people. I think that’s a prescription for growth that we need.
I still think Detroit has great promise. The architecture of Detroit, the physical and human architecture of Detroit is incredible. It’s breathtaking. I’ve met so many beautiful, wonderful Detroiters who have just this indefatigable spirit of Detroit, and it’s people that, in spite of adversity and in spite of tough times, it’s an indomitable will. They’re entrepreneurial, they’re innovative, they’re loving, they’re passionate about the city.
Detroit is the face of Michigan. We can’t get away from that. There are people that say, ‘Give up on Detroit.’ I say, ‘Never will we give up on Detroit.’ We have to embrace our cities, and this is where Michigan has fallen behind.
The creative class is attracted to cities. Our young people – my daughters – want to go to cities. We have a brain-drain going on in Michigan something terrible, and it’s mostly because of our city life, or lack thereof. And then the whole state suffers, because the fact of the matter is, young people – people who are planting roots and getting started – they want cities. And we don’t have that.

Name a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person who has influenced you as a person, or as a politician.

It’s really (my brother) Victor, and the closest person to me would be (campaign manager) Patrick (McAlvey), in terms of politics.
Along the way, (McAlvey) had some press in the mayor’s race (regarding his experience with ex-gay therapy organization Corduroy Stone) and I think at one point he thought that I might not like it, but my attitude was that it is what it is, it’s part of who you are and I’ve been through things, my brother’s been through things, and we move on. What doesn’t kill us make us stronger. And it’s part of who I am anyway, to advocate for fairness and equality. If people are going to vote against me because of that, then so be it.

Michigan is seeing a resurgence of HIV infections among young, gay MSMs – especially young, black males. How should state health officials respond to this?

I automatically think about public health education to targeted groups, and then comprehensive sex education. I would reach out to the community and the public health community and make sure we’re on one page with stepping up those efforts, including testing efforts. I’ve mostly been focused on running my city and the economy, but the three that come to mind are public health education, comprehensive sex education and outreach and promoting testing.

Do you think the HIV/AIDS crisis in Detroit – by far the worst city in our state in terms of infections – is something that the state government should be involved in?

I think the government does definitely play a role. Now is the time. If infection rates are going up and we know where they are, we should always try to be proactive and get in there with testing and education in a more aggressive way. If that means through the school system, through the public health system with medical establishment, we need to be aggressive about it and not bury our heads in the sand. We’ve seen other countries – and in this country, at times – where problems don’t go away – they get worse if you ignore them. So let’s get ahead of it, let’s get the best minds on it and take action. It’s far better to spend some money on the front end with education and outreach than have to deal with more disease later.

What is your favorite thing about the gay community?

I see a great deal of diversity within the community, so while I can point to individuals with traits I like, I would say that there’s no one trait that I can put on the gay community.
I see the whole potential – both in the human spirit and the quality of life – I see incredible benefits of being inclusive as a city. I see it in my city, in Lansing, where I think of individuals who just add to the fabric of our city. They are out and proud, and they’re out and proud for our city as well. Their exuberance really powers the city, so when I see that in my city, I just wonder how much better the state could be if we were as welcoming and open as we are in Lansing.

Learn more at http://www.votevirg.com.

Andy Dillon

Credentials: Degrees in accounting and law from the University of Notre Dame. Served as aide to former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley. Held law practice in Wayne County, was vice president of GE Capital and president of Detroit Steel Company, and served as magistrate for the 17th District Court. Michigan state representative from the 17th district since 2004, and has served as Speaker of the House since 2007.

Notable endorsements: Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh and council members Kenneth Cockrel Jr. and Gary Brown; former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer; Michigan Spanish Speaking Democrats; Police Officers Association of Michigan; state Sens. Gilda Jacobs, Buzz Thomas and Marc Corriveau; Michigan Teamsters Joint Council 43.

Why do you care about protecting, serving and fighting for equality for the LGBT community?

It’s part of the fabric of Michigan. It’s part of my life. I live in this world and I have a lot of friends who are members of it and I don’t like discrimination of any sort, whether it be those issues or race or gender.

How do you believe you’ve proven your commitment to the LGBT community?

No. 1, I’m the first person, I think, ever to have moved the anti-bullying legislation. We did it in my first term, which the Triangle Foundation recognized me for as legislator of the year, and we moved it again this session.
I’ve been very public in my support of partnership benefits. I think it’s crazy that we’re denying people access to health care, and any rights that they need for visitation or transfer of assets, I’m very supportive of.

What will you do for the gay community if you are elected as Michigan’s next governor?

I will fight discrimination in any form. In my experience, they’re a tremendous asset to any community they live in. They improve the neighborhoods, they’re entrepreneurs. To me, it’s all about jobs and the economy, and their community demonstrates to me that they’re aggressive and they invest in their communities and improve them. I think we can learn a lot from them as to how to improve other communities where they haven’t migrated to. I think you’ll find that I’m all about getting this economy turned around and making certain that everyone has access to opportunities, whether it be members of that community or other areas where people have been discriminated against in the past.

Several important LGBT-related bills have languished in the Michigan legislature for years – Matt’s Safe Schools, Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, second-parent adoption. How will you work to create bipartisan support in the House and Senate on these issues to ensure that they are finally passed?

It’s the same way that, let’s say, when we did energy. I recognized that we had a real problem in our regulations. In fact, the rating agencies said Michigan had absolutely the worst regulations in the country. It started out by building a coalition. To do something as significant as energy reform, it takes building a coalition to get it done.
So we started with the utilities and they said, “No – been there, done that, don’t want to have that fight again.” So then I reached out to Mike Nofs, who’s the former chair of the Energy and Technology Committee (in the state House), got Mike to agree that we needed to do this, and then we went back to the utilities. They were reluctant, but we got the business community on board, got the environmentalists on board, got labor on board and got some consumer groups on board, and out of that package we changed the regulations.
So we molded the legislation so that all those stakeholders kind of had a reason to get on board. And on issues like this, it has to be similar. In my view, you need to build a coalition there that includes the business community, the education community, your cities, your health care industry, your labor.
On (LGBT rights) issues, you have to figure out how to build a coalition to get the support. There’s enough opportunity, I think, where you can pick up right-minded Republicans who are thoughtful, because for example, on second-parent adoption, it’s not just a gay issue, right? I mean, it can be two sisters, living together and raising a kid that is a decedent of their family, so why wouldn’t you allow them to both have some parental rights? I think that’s how you maybe go get the coalition built to get this thing done.

What do you think is the most important legislative issue to address in regard to LGBT equality in our state?

Anything that prevents discrimination. Like, I was talking to someone from Michigan Messenger and he was telling me – it was new to me – that a lot of folks in the community resist getting medical checkups that they put off with an “ignorance is bliss” type of mentality. We have to make certain that they’re not thinking that way, so let’s maybe focus on preventative health care measures and making certain that they feel safe and comfortable going to get the treatment and that they have access to go get it.

It’s been suggested that creating a more welcoming, inclusive state will drive more LGBT and allied people to choose to live in Michigan, and therefore bring a lot of talent to our state. Do you agree with that statement?

Very much so.

Name a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person who has influenced you either personally, or as a politician.

This goes back the furthest: My old next door neighbor passed away of AIDS, and I’ll never forget – I was talking to him within the last year of his life and he just had an amazing attitude. Very positive. Every day was a gift. He changed so many hearts and minds in our community because they knew him growing up. Just watching the way he handled the disease and fought through it with tremendous dignity and converted so many people to saying, “Look at this. This is a big problem.”
I’d have to point to him, his name was John Vincent. The family became very involved in the community and in the battle against AIDS. This kid was a great kid and this affected their life so directly. The way the family handled it, and him in particular, was really significant.

Michigan is seeing a resurgence of new HIV infections among young, gay MSMs – especially young, black males. How should state health officials respond to this?

The first thing that pops into my head is awareness. It kind of seems that we’ve forgotten about it. AIDS was a big, scary thing 20 years ago and all of a sudden, we’ve forgotten about it. Maybe it’s because the cocktails are showing some signs of working. But I think you start with awareness, and then when you get into the department, making certain that there is an avenue for those folks to get questions answered and then send them to somewhere that they can get help. So awareness, then the facilitation of what you do if you’re caught in that position.

Do you think the HIV/AIDS crisis in Detroit – by far the worst city in our state in terms of infections – is something that the state government should be involved in?

We have what was a 12-point urban agenda for the city of Detroit, and now it’s 13, and maybe you’re adding a 14th point. What’s driving it? Is it intravenous drug use or the lifestyle? I don’t know, but I think we need to understand that before we can help prevent it.
The cities aren’t going to turn around without the partnership from the state, the counties, the cities – as well as the businesses and the churches. We’ve got to form a partnership. I’ve said that there’s going to be a cabinet level position responsible for this agenda, because it’s not just one thing that’s going to get our cities turned around. It’s going to have to be someone who has the governor’s ear – who has the clout to cross different departments in the state government. So if it’s an AIDS issue, they’ll have the ability to talk right to the director of community health, and when they pick up the phone and call Dave Bing, that Bing will know he should answer.
To me, one of the critical positions in my administration will be this person responsible for implementing the urban agenda. We’re all in this together, you know, and now, just the real contraction of revenues – whether it be in the city, the county or the state – we’ve got to learn how to work better, quicker, faster, and to collaborate. We just don’t have the resources we used to and we’re going to have to reinvent the way we deliver government services.

What is your favorite thing about the gay community?

Their parties. I’m serious. I mean, they’re just fun people.

To learn more, visit http://www.andydillon.com.

Note: Between The Lines made the decision not to pursue interviews with any of the Republican candidates at this time. Also, out of all Republican candidates contacted by the Pride PAC, only Rick Snyder responded, saying that he was not answering any surveys until after the Aug. 3 primary election.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.