Originally printed on http://www.michiganmessenger.com
State Rep. Paul Scott, (R-Grand Blanc), announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination for Secretary of State on Jan. 15, but he’s already caused a shock wave.
Scott, who just completed the first year of his first two-year term in the state House, is rankling feathers with a promise he made in his announcement letter, which listed four top policy priorities, including:
“I will make it a priority to ensure transgender individuals will not be allowed to change the sex on their driver’s license in any circumstance.”
In an interview with Michigan Messenger, Scott said the issue was about “values.”
“It’s a social values issue. If you are born a male, you should be known as a male. Same as with a female, she should be known as a female,” he said.
When asked to explain how such a mandate from the Secretary of State would benefit Michigan, he said it was about “preventing people who are males genetically from dressing as a woman and going into female bathrooms.”
While Scott is aware that federal courts have ruled that gender dysphoria, the medical diagnosis for transgender persons, was a disability, he said he did not think he would run afoul of discrimination laws. For the 27-year-old state representative, the issue is about biological gender.
He said his mandate would be in place even for those who had completely undergone sex reassignment surgeries.
Michigan Secretary of State policy currently holds that persons applying for gender marker changes on identification must undergo gender reassignment surgery. This policy was briefly lifted in 2005 to allow for persons identified as having gender dysphoria by a health care provider, but was changed back to the original policy due to backlash from right-wing opponents.
“That’s who you are,” he argued. “You can have cosmetic surgery or reassignment surgery but you are still that gender.”
Scott will square off with former state Sen. and Rep. Joanne Emmons, state Sens. Cameron Brown (R-Fawn River Twp.) and Michelle McManus (R-Lake Leelanau) and Calhoun County Clerk Anne Norlander for the post.
Scott’s comments brought immediate rebuttal from the LGBT community.
“Representative Scott’s remarks indicate that he is not fit to serve the people of Michigan in this position,” said Julie Nemecek, a transgender activist from the Jackson area.
Nemecek made national headlines two years ago when Spring Arbor University fired her for being transgender. She sued the conservative, private Christian university in federal court and reached an out-of-court settlement.
“Transgender people are often in need of help by the Secretary of State’s office in updating documents to reflect the medical and surgical changes they go through,” she said.
Democratic candidate for the Secretary of State nomination Jocelyn Benson said Scott’s statement was meant to distract from “real issues.”
“I don’t mean to minimize this issue as unimportant,” Benson said. “I am more frustrated that this is being done to take a volatile issue and drive a debate in a way that energized a base. That it is just sort of more an attempt toward extremist issues.”
Benson said she supported the right of transgender residents to have their driver’s license and state identification cards reflect their gender expression.
“The American Medical Association and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, Inc. both highlight numerous mental, emotional and physical health dangers posed to transgender people when they do not receive the same care and respect that all other human beings receive,” said Alicia Skillman, executive director of the Triangle Foundation. “Additionally, Michigan law allows for a person’s sex to be changed. The fact that anyone would launch a campaign flouting an existing law which seeks to protect Michigan residents from harm is truly disheartening.”
Phil Volk, chair of the LGBT and Allied Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party, says Scott’s shot across the bow of LGBT issues could signal a coming battle in an election year.
“In 2010, the key social issue in Michigan for the Republicans is to push back or stop or reverse LGBT issues,” Volk said. “The Republicans are going to make this an issue. They feel that they can frighten the average person that these transgender individuals are coming into their homes, their bathrooms, and have the rights to do what they want. It’s the old fear tactic.”
That tactic has had mixed results in Michigan. Voters in Hamtrammck voted down an anti-discrimination ordinance in November 2008 after a campaign against the ordinance focused largely on transgender issues. This past November, however, voters in Kalamazoo overwhelmingly rejected the “men in dresses in women’s bathrooms” tactic and approved a similar ordinance.
“This has been a consistent and pervasive organized approach. It appears that they believe this campaign of hate and exclusion will draw people to them,” said Nemecek. “This is an issue that many people do not understand, so it is very easy for the GOP to misrepresent transgender people and use fear and ignorance to generate hate.”
Some LGBT leaders are concerned that such campaigns could lead to more than just political drama.
“I think because the (LGBT) community is going to become a flash point for getting voters,” said Volk, “(Republicans are) going to go into a lot of churches and into a lot of teabaggers groups etc. and say, ‘Be frightened of these people,’ and that is going to instigate a lot of violence. We are going to have to be very cautious in this area.”