With the end-of-year rush surrounding final exams, summer plan finalizations and the packing up of dorm rooms, the average Grand Valley State University likely didn't notice that the end of April marked a small step toward increased LGBTQ inclusivity at GVSU, but this small change could send a resounding message in the West Michigan community: GVSU has amended its purchasing and overall discrimination policies to contract only with vendors who do not discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
"Based on your recommendation, amendments have been made to the nondiscrimination
clause in the office's General Terms & Conditions … and section 14 of GVSU Purchase
Order Terms & Conditions," read a letter announcing the changes from Dr. Jesse M. Bernal, vice president of diversity and inclusion at the university. "Both now contain the exact language expressed in BOT 1.4, including sex/gender (including gender identity and expression) and sexual orientation."
That letter was sent to Eric-John Szczepaniak, a GVSU junior going into his senior year at school who one day hopes to go into teaching or school administration who was responsible for putting this change in motion. Szczepaniak is also a senator and president-elect of the GVSU Student Senate and is openly LGBTQ. He first thought of bringing forth the idea for the resolution to the previously non-specific vendor policy as a way for his school to expand on inclusivity measures brought forth at the end of Gov. Rick Snyder's administration. He said he was spurred on when in January, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer expanded on that measure by specifying that the state of Michigan would not contract with anti-LGBTQ vendors.
"It got me thinking that, 'Oh, this will be a great thing for more units of government to adopt themselves because the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act has still not been expanded to protect or to define LGBT individuals as a protected class,'" Szczepaniak said. "And I know that Grand Valley State University already has LGBT protections in place for hiring and for students, the question was, 'How far do those [protections] extend?' Because if I can be my full authentic self here at Grand Valley State University, but if I can't be my full authentic self with this degree in hand a couple years from now, then what was the point of me coming here in the first place?"
Szczepaniak is now working to put a similar policy in place in Kenowa Hills Public Schools, the district where in 2016 he was elected at 18 years old and broke records as the youngest elected official in West Michigan. Now, he's nearly halfway through his six-year term and is hopeful to play his part in expanding LGBTQ protections where they fall short.
"I brought this up to my superintendent and he has been drafting some policy language which is going to be introduced at our next meeting and voted on the following meeting," he said. "It's just one step forward. Even those municipalities that have non-discrimination ordinances, they should also be considering the vendors that they contract with and if those dollars they're responsible for are going toward businesses that still discriminate."
to read the policy changes visit gaybe.am/TD and gaybe.am/QL.