Agema Slammed For Anti-Gay Screed

Agema's Claim American Airlines Forced By San Francisco To Provide Benefits To Gay Couples Not True

By Todd Heywood

LANSING - Politicians from both parties, Agema's former employer, wasted no time slamming Republican National Committeemen from Michigan Dave Agema's latest antigay comments. Politicians were responding to a national action call by Equality Michigan which demanded politicians - particularly Republicans - condemn Agema's statements and require him to resign his national post.

"What I'd say, plainly and simply, is that the Governor believes Mr. Agema's remarks are wrong, extreme and discriminatory. We shouldn't tolerate discrimination of any kind. There shouldn't be room for that in any political party. Period," said Sara Wurfel, a spokesperson for Republican Governor Rick Snyder in an email to BTL.

Agema made national headlines Nov. 26 when his comments at a Berrien County Republican event over the weekend made the local newspaper.

"Folks, they (gay people) want free medical because they're dying (when they're) between 30 and 44 years old," the Herald Palladium reported Agema said. "To me, it's a moral issue. It's a Biblical issue. Traditional marriage is where it should be and it's in our platform. Those in our party who oppose traditional marriage are wrong."

The Michigan Department of Community Health said in a statement to BTL that Agema's age and death claim does not reflect Michigan's HIV reality.

"In terms of Michigan data, these comments are not reflective of what our data shows," wrote Angela Minicuci, spokesperson for the department.

Minicuci said deaths associated with HIV/AIDS have "dramatically" decreased since the advent of antiretroviral drugs in 1995. For instances, there were 921 deaths of people living with HIV in 1995, compared to 121 in 2012. For those living with AIDS, there were 852 deaths in 1995 compared to 107 in 2012.

BTL inquired of MDCH as to whether Agema's comments helped or hurt the state's efforts in addressing the HIV crisis.

"Any time there is misinformation about any illness or disease being spread, it hinders the public's ability to protect themselves and make informed decisions," Minicuci responded in an email. "With every disease, our overall concern and goal is to make sure that Michigan residents know the facts so that they can get tested, protect themselves, and receive treatment."

Snyder was not alone in issuing a statement.

"Speaker Bolger is understanding when someone speaks about their faith, but he is disgusted when someone demonizes another person for any reason," said Ari Adler, spokesperson for Bolger in an email. "I assure you, Mr. Agema does not speak for this office or for where the Speaker stands on the issue of trying to find a reasonable balance between personal liberties and religious freedom."

State Democrats joined the growing chorus challenging Agema. Four Democratic state representatives from Wastenaw County issued a joint press release condemning the comments, but stopped short of calling for Agema's resignation from the Republican National Committee.

"When a leader of a state party makes comments like this it sends a terrible message to the rest of the world," Rep. Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline) said. "Michigan would do better at attracting jobs and supporting our diverse workforce if outdated and ignorant statements like this were not made."

Ann Arbor Rep. Jeff Irwin when a step further.

"Dave Agema continues to use pseudo-science and outright lies to advance a hateful, bigoted agenda," Irwin said. "It says a lot about the Republican Party that they chose Dave Agema for a leadership role. I'm sure there are Republicans who are as disgusted as I am by his behavior, but his views reflect their party's official position."

Within the same diatribe Nov. 26, Agema, claimed the city of San Francisco forced American Airlines (his former employer) to provide domestic partner benefits.

"I know what happened to American Airlines when San Francisco said we could not land in San Francisco and do business with American Airlines unless we paid same sex unmarried benefits," said Agema.

The problem? Agema's claim does not match the facts provided by history.

The City of San Francisco passed an ordinance requiring all contractors to the city to provide domestic partner benefits in 1996 and 1997. Among those contractors were airlines, including United and American. United, which had a larger presence in the city's airport, challenged the ordinance in federal court. The airlines were represented by their industry interest groups, Air Transport Association of America and Airline Industrial Relations Conference. The Federal Express Corporation also joined the suit as a plaintiff.

The federal court sided with the airline industry in 1998, ruling the city had over stepped its bounds under federal law.

An American Airlines spokesperson has called the National Republican Committeemen's comments "baseless."

"While it is our company policy not to discuss comments made by former employees, we find these statements to be baseless. We have long-term policies of inclusion, fairness and equality. Because of this commitment, this week, for the 12th consecutive year, American earned a perfect 100-percent score on the HRC Corporate Equality Index. Our policies speak for themselves," a spokesperson for the company wrote in a statement provided exclusively to Between The Lines.

In months later, in August of 1998, American Airlines announced it would offer domestic partner benefits to same-sex partners.

"The airline made the decision after receiving several requests from its single employees. The airline, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas, has 107,000 employees worldwide, including 10,000 who work for American Eagle. We just feel that the time was right to do it," said Tim Kincaid, a spokesman for American Airlines in 1998.

"A lot of other companies have had good experiences with it," he said. "It's in the best interests of our employees and our company."

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