Michiganders are Hungry 4 Equality

By |2012-07-26T09:00:00-04:00July 26th, 2012|News|

BTL Photos 2-4: Crystal A. Proxmire. BTL Photos 4-12: Andrew Potter

FERNDALE – For all Michiganders who are Hungry 4 Equality, now is the time to sit down and shut your mouth. To food at least.
For the 100 days leading up to election day Nov. 6, Affirmations Community Center will be ground zero for a statewide hunger protest. Strikers are hoping to bring attention to the inequality faced by LGBT citizens. The state’s most heinous anti-gay politicians, who have been inflicting harm on LGBT families, are also being highlighted through a large window display titled “Equality Rights Hall of Shame.”
A website focusing on this effort has launched, where the public can learn about the anti-gay legislation currently being pursued and sign-up to participate in the strike effort. The six featured anti-gay politicians working to deny equality to LGBT families includes State Rep. Dave Agema (R-Dist.74); State House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Dist. 63); Troy Mayor Janice Daniels; former U.S. Senate Candidate Gary Glenn, who heads up the Michigan Chapter of the American Family Association; State Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Dist. 45);and Attorney General Bill Schuette.
In rotating shifts, protestors will sit in a living-room set on a stage in the community center’s large front windows. From 9 a.m. to 9 a.m. the next day, protestors will go without food in a symbolic strike to raise awareness and educate the public. During the first week, directors from all eight Michigan LGBT centers will each participate in one day of striking. They will return to their local communities with Hungry4Equality information to share with supporters.
Individuals and groups can sign-up for a shift. Some high profile protestors have already agreed to participate including Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter, Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, and County Commissioner Craig Covey.
The strike action will be viewable by people walking by the Center, and the 100 day event is being live-streamed on the Internet. David Garcia, executive director of Affirmations took the first 24-hour shift on Monday, starting his day with a round of press interviews and getting cozy with a Superman Snuggie in the evening as his spotters, Cass Varner and Johnny Jenkins stayed on for support.
Security concerns mean that every protestor must have at least one spotter with them in the building at all times. The hunger strike has already made international news, with publications like Queerty and the Advocate picking up the story. Another group following the strike is the religious right, where websites like http://the-end-time.blogspot.com/are telling readers things like, “As a side note, the LGBT people who plan this hunger strike are certainly committed. Are Christians as committed to God’s agenda as Satan is to his own agenda? This is an example of how relentless Satan is.”
Online comments have mainly been supportive, but some are downright scary. “We had someone write that they hope we all starve and die,” Garcia said.
Fighting that kind of ignorance is not on Garcia’s mind. “The only way you can not upset people is by not doing anything at all,” he said. “You can’t just do nothing because of who may not like it.” Instead the Community Center Network members, made up of eight organizations from across the state, are hoping to reach their allies and to get them engaged.
Kalamazoo Resource Center Executive Director Zack Bauer said it’s all about “bringing awareness to the allied community. Lots of people believe in equal rights for LGBT folks, but they don’t know we can be fired for being gay, or that we can’t adopt, or that a hard working gay person can be fired from their job just because they are gay.” Bauer will be taking the second 24-hour shift.
In addition to simply giving up food for a day, the Hungry 4 Equalitycampaign encourages all people to visit Affirmations and get involved. On the “Advocacy Island,” near the stage, a phone bank has been established, computers have been hooked up, and information is ready for people who want to learn more.

Hall of Shame

Garcia outlined five areas where LGBT citizens are legally discriminated against. In Michigan there is no marriage equality; second parent adoption is challenged; people can lose their employment because they are gay or transgender; public accommodation and benefits for partners can be denied. But the advocacy goes beyond just talking about these issues. Garcia said the plan is to teach people why LGBT people face inequality in these areas.
“It’s not just the current legislation and bills, but the people behind them,” Garcia said.
That’s the purpose for the Equality Rights Hall of Shame. These six politicians, plus the current Michigan Supreme Court, are all outed to the public for their continued malicious attitude towards the gay and transgender community.
State Rep. David Agema from Grandville proposed eliminating HIV funding and spearheaded legislation to take away domestic partner benefits for all public employees.
Republican House Majority Leader Jase Bolger from Marshall, is the man behind the infamous banning of two female representatives on the house floor, one for saying “vagina.” He was also recently involved in a scam to convince someone to run as a “fake Democrat” for a House seat.
Attorney General Bill Schutte made the list too. Schutte proposed prohibiting transgender individuals from being able to change their gender marker on their drivers licenses, advocated for a law that would allow counseling students to refuse to provide service to gay clients, and defended stripping families of their domestic partner benefits.
Republican Rep. Tom McMillin of Rochester introduced HB 5039, a bill that if passed, would prohibit cities from having specific non-discrimination policies, removing them from the 19 cities that have voted them in.
Gary Glenn is the President of the Michigan’s American Family Association and until recently, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. For the last 14 years he has spent a lot of time and money fighting against gay rights. The sixth Hall of Shame politician is Troy Mayor Janice Daniels whose homophobic remark on Facebook sparked national outrage and led to a successful recall petition drive to force her out of office. She will face voters on Nov. 6.

United Front

“It’s incredibly important for all the LGBT centers in Michigan to work together,” Bauer said. “The people who are against us are organized, and they’ve won because we haven’t been organized.”
Tim Hekinson is chair of Perceptions, a community center that serves Bay City, Saginaw and Midland. He will be taking the couch over on Friday for his 24-hours of service. “Like all the groups around the state, we want to bring our attention to our allies and the movable middle,” Hekinson said.
Garcia noted that in every civil rights battle, it’s only been won when allies stood up along side those who are the target of discrimination.
Outside Affirmations, people stopped over and over during the first day, to read the posters on the wall and peek in at the people inside. Trish Cain of Clawson wanted to find out more, and was excited to see the center doing something as bold as the Hungry4Equality campaign.
“This is a civil rights movement,” Cain said. “When Martin Luther King Jr. gave his ‘I have a Dream speech,’ there were a lot of white people, some famous, standing up along with him.”
Those who want to help are encouraged to sign-up to volunteer as hunger strikers or spotters. They can come in and work the phone banks. Donating to their local community center is another way to show their support.

Find out more about Hungry4Equality at www.goaffirmations.org/site/PageNavigator/Get%20Involved/HungryforEquality.html, and watch the hunger strike live at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/hungry4equality.

Michigan Legislation Targeting Gay and Transgender People

The following legislation is being reviewed by elected officials and the campaign is hoping to build opposition to these bills before further damage is done to LGBT families:

House Bill 4770, Status: Passed
Eliminates health care coverage for domestic partners of municipal public employees.

House Bill 5039, Status: Introduced
Prohibits municipalities from adopting nondiscrimination ordinances that include gay and transgender residents.

Senate Bill 518 / House Bill 5040, Status: approved by the House Education Committee
Requires university counseling, psychology and social work programs to violate national ethics standards by allowing students to refuse service to certain clients.

SB 975, Status: Introduced
Would give medical care providers, insurance companies and employers the right to discriminate in services offered based on a moral exemption.

The Community Centers Network Members

Ferndale, MI
Executive Director David Garcia
Scheduled to strike on: Monday, July 30

Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center
Kalamazoo, MI
Executive Director: Zach Bauer
Scheduled to strike on: Tuesday, July 31

Benton Harbor, MI
Interim Executive Director Santiago Lopez
Scheduled to strike on: Wednesday, August 1

Detroit, MI
Executive Director Curtis Lipscomb
Scheduled to strike on Thursday, August 2

Midland, MI
President Tim Atkinson
Scheduled to strike on: Friday, August 3

The Network
Grand Rapids, MI
Executive Director Pat Ward
Scheduled to strike on: Friday, August 3

Jim Toy Community Center
Ann Arbor, MI
President Terry McGinn
Scheduled to strike on: Saturday, August 4

Detroit [email protected]
Detroit, MI
Co-Founder/Board Chair Reynaldo Magdaleno
Scheduled to strike on: Sunday, August 5

About the Author:

Crystal A. Proxmire
Crystal Proxmire is the editor and publisher of The Oakland County Times. She loves covering municipal governance and cheering on community efforts.