Prop 2 opponents share views at LGBT forum

By |2006-09-21T09:00:00-04:00September 21st, 2006|News|

By SHARON GITTLEMAN

FERNDALE – Speakers passionately condemned Proposal 2 last week at the Affirming Action: Uniting Our Communities for Change town hall forum, held at Zion Lutheran Church in Ferndale.
Nearly three dozen people applauded opponents’ efforts to defeat the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, the measure aimed at ending affirmative action which will appear on the November ballot.
If the initiative is passed, Michigan’s Constitution would be amended to ban public institutions, including state and local governments, colleges and universities, from giving preferential treatment to people based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin in public employment, education or contracting.
“We hope to not only convince members of the LGBT community of the need to oppose Proposition 2,” said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberty Union’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “We also want them to get involved in the campaign.”
The guest speaker was Urvashi Vaid, executive director of the Arcus Foundation, a Kalamazoo-based organization devoted to promoting equality for gays, lesbians and others.

Door of opportunity

Affirmative action is an important issue for LGBT people, even though the measure doesn’t target the gay and lesbian communities for equal protection, Vaid said.
“This is a matter of human rights and we’re a movement for human rights,” she said. “Affirmative action has opened the door of opportunity for millions of people – for men and women of all colors.”
Vaid said it was vital for gays and lesbians to support their allies in the fight for civil rights.
The gay community faces two big challenges, she said.
It needs to eliminate the external assaults that condemn gays and lesbians as sinful and face up to the internal divisions caused by the racial and economic diversity of the LGBT community.
Gay people have to face up to the question of whether they are devoted to justice or plan to take a “just us” stand when it comes to human rights issues, she said.
“The gay community has an obligation to take positions on social justice issues,” Vaid said. “We’re a movement for civil rights and we should support movements opposing civil wrongs.”
There is a practical as well as a moral argument to be made for gays’ support of affirmative action, she said.
“Whenever we’ve made coalitions, we’ve advanced the LGBT movement,” Vaid said.

Taking a stand

Kaplan said he wanted to encourage gay people to take a stand against the ballot measure.
“It’s an issue of civil rights and equality,” he said. “How can I be an advocate of LGBT equality and not be an advocate of my brothers and sisters in this community who may benefit from affirmative action programs? Any blow to the civil rights movement is a blow to all struggles for equality.”
Michelle Brown, a member of the Human Rights Campaign Board of Governors, said our country has just recently begun to accept the beauty diversity brings to our culture – a concept affirmative action helps impart.
“You never know who could be the next Martin Luther King. Who’s our next Marie Curie?” she said. “If you don’t have that window open, you lose so much.”
A panel of civil rights activists included Khaled Beydoun, from the American Civil Liberties Union; Alexandra Matish, with Michigan Women United; and Johnny Jenkins, representing the Black Pride Society.
Beydoun spoke of the chilling effect a similar measure had upon enrollment at California universities while Matish advised people to talk to others in their churches, synagogues and rotary clubs about the importance of affirmative action.
Ken Rosen, president of Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center’s Board of Directors, asked why the proposal was brought now and why in Michigan.
“From a strategic standpoint, they go after the weakest element,” said Jenkins. “We don’t want to be the Mississippi of the North.”
Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center Executive Director Leslie Thompson asked audience members to encourage 10 friends and family members to vote no on Proposal 2.
Gay white men have a special mission, she said.
“They will be the ones to change people’s minds, just like PFLAG people changed other parents’ minds,” she said.
Affirmative action did more than just open the door for women and minorities, she said.
“It changed the environment,” she said. “Sometimes these things change society’s sense of what’s acceptable.”

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