Michigan's 'one tough nerd' should better protect the rights of gays

By Jenny Oorbeck

Viewpoint

Gov. Rick Snyder ran for office on the gutsy proclamation of being "one tough nerd." I do not know Snyder personally, but it makes me wonder: Was he outcast as a nerd during his youth? Was he bullied by his peers?

Being outcast and bullied is the unfortunate reality of many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) youths in Michigan and in our nation. They are often cast out in schools, in their communities and sometimes even by their closest family members. In fact, LGBT young people represent approximately 20%-40% of the homeless youths across the country, often because they are kicked out of their homes by their families.

In Michigan, nine out of 10 LGBT youths have been verbally harassed in the last year, and one in five have actually been physically assaulted. It's no wonder that the rates of suicide and attempted suicide among LGBT youths are so high.

Unfortunately, in Michigan, not only are LGBT residents bullied as youths, but they are bullied as adults, too. This discrimination is so accepted and pervasive it is knitted into the fabric of our state laws and Constitution. Michigan used to be a civil rights leader, but for LGBT residents, our laws more closely mimic the laws of the Deep South.

In Michigan, LGBT citizens can legally be fired or evicted simply based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. In Michigan, gay public workers are blatantly and legally compensated less than their straight peers, thanks in part to Gov. Snyder's approving signature on PA297, which revokes health benefits for the domestic partners of government employees.

In Michigan, only gay singles can adopt children, leaving children with only the legal protections of one parent, even if they have two. (How does a preference for single person adoption over committed couple adoption even make sense?)

In fact, in Michigan, same-sex relationships are entirely unrecognized, and every single protection of marriage, civil unions or even domestic partnerships is denied to committed gay couples and their children.

If Snyder has experienced the pain of being outcast and bullied, then he must viscerally understand what it feels like to be marginalized and picked on. One would think that this would enable him to understand and empathize with the experience of his LGBT constituents.

Snyder may indeed be a nerd. But if he were truly tough, his empathy and understanding would foster a stance that supports Michigan's LGBT citizens, rather than further marginalizing them.

A tough nerd would stand up for LGBT residents who are essentially bullied by the straight majority and relegated to second-class citizenship.

Michigan needs someone who will stand up for the rights of minorities and those who are viewed as different. Regardless of anyone's personal or religious beliefs, we are people. We are people capable of great accomplishments, of great love. We are people who go to great lengths to plan for and bring children into our families.

We are people who foster and adopt children who have been abandoned by their biological parents. We are people who are productive to society. We are people who pay our taxes, in many cases more taxes than our straight counterparts because our marriages go unrecognized by most states and the federal government.

We are people, and we should be treated with respect.

A tough nerd would demand that respect. A tough nerd would do the right thing, even if it meant putting himself on the line. Mr. Governor, please stand up and show us how tough a nerd you really are.

Jenny Oorbeck lives with her spouse and two sons in Ann Arbor.

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