GOP sec. of state candidate takes hard right turn on LGBT issues

Once endorsed by gay rights group, Johnson now courting anti-gay vote

By Todd A. Heywood

This article ran in full on http://www.MichiganMessenger.com

Republican candidate for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has issued a statement denying support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and disavowing her 2002 endorsement by the Triangle Foundation's Political Action Committee.

In a move meant to match the political stance of opponent Rep. Paul Scott of Genesee County, Johnson also issued a statement saying, "I do not support allowing people to change their gender on their license as a result of surgery or lifestyle."

Scott entered the race in February with a great deal of attention on his announcement that he would not allow transgender residents to change their gender markers on their state ID cards. The practice of changing one's gender is currently allowed under Secretary of State policy with a letter from a doctor stating that the person in question has undergone some type of medical procedure to treat their gender dysphoria.

Anti-gay forces are celebrating Johnson's voiced position on the issue.

"In an era of identity theft and national security concerns, we're glad that Ruth Johnson has now joined Rep. Paul Scott in expressly stating her opposition to the Secretary of State policy of allowing men to falsely identify themselves as female on their state-issued driver's license, and vice versa," said Campaign for Michigan Families chairman Gary Glenn. Glenn also leads the anti-gay American Family Association of Michigan.

"The people of Michigan should at minimum be able to trust their state government to tell the truth, not enable certain individuals' psychological and emotional delusions by officially and legally identifying them as something they biologically are not. We urge all candidates for secretary of state to let voters know where they stand on this honesty-in-government issue."

The move to make transgender people a political football in the GOP secretary of state race is not sitting well with advocates for the LGBT community.

"It's unfortunate that the conversation has come back to the issue of denying fairness to transgender residents in the state of Michigan," said Alicia Skillman, executive director of Equality Michigan. "We need to move forward, not take giant steps backward regarding trans equality. To refer to transgender individuals changing the sex on their driver's licenses as "dishonest" is insulting and downright oppressive. Michigan needs to catch up to states that value difference. Michigan needs to keep the conversation moving toward fairness and equality for every person in the state."

Julie Nemecek, who made national headlines in 2007 when she was fired from the conservative Christian Spring Arbor University for being transgender, also condemned the move.

"To not allow a transgender person to change their gender marker on a driver's license is to ignore the advice of the AMA (American Medical Association), APA (American Psychological Association), WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) and other health care organizations that understand this medical condition," Nemecek said. "The U.S. State Department allows changes on a passport even without surgery."

In 2002, Johnson received the endorsement of Triangle Pride PAC, a pro-gay rights organization in Detroit. Officials from Equality Michigan, which formed when the Triangle Foundation and Michigan Equality merged earlier this year, have been unable to locate the survey Johnson would have filled out in 2002 to earn her endorsement from Triangle PAC.

Sean Kosofsky, who was director of policy at Triangle Foundation and a leader in the Triangle PAC in 2002, said he does not recall specifically why Johnson was endorsed in the August 2002 primary, but did say, "Folks had high hopes she would be a moderate."

A press release from July 30, 2002, announcing the endorsements which included Johnson, said the endorsements were made "based on several criteria including responses to questionnaires, their record on GLBT issues and viability as a candidate. Each candidate was surveyed on issues ranging from hate crimes, civil rights, parenting, family, youth and military issues and HIV/AIDS policy."

On the other hand, a survey filled out by Johnson and released by Gary Glenn and his Campaign for Michigan Families shows Johnson has no support for LGBT issues.

In that survey, not only does Johnson say she would oppose allowing transgender people to change their gender markers on state-issued licenses, but that she opposes adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's civil rights law to prevent discrimination, opposes hate crimes legislation which includes the LGBT community and opposes allowing same-sex couples to adopt children. On top of that, Johnson says she would fight to keep the state's constitutional amendment which prohibits marriage equality for same sex couples.

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