Op Ed: Voting Out Anti-LGBT Candidates in Oakland County

BY CRAIG COVEY

A longtime community member asked me a few weeks ago why I was running for sheriff in Oakland County. There are several reasons, the most important of which is that voters ought to be able to have a choice in such an important office.

Conservative establishment Republicans have had a near stranglehold on this county for the past 40 years, and while LGBT-supportive Democrats have begun to win offices and were able to field strong candidates this year, they did not have anyone willing to stand up to Michael Bouchard.

It was Sheriff Bouchard who ordered his Narcotics Enforcement Team (NET) to raid Oakland County's first gay nightclub back in the 1990s, known as Cobalt. Located in Ferndale, the club was very popular. This was before Ferndale was able to cement its role as a stronghold for diversity and the LGBT community, and the Republican leadership of L. Brooks Patterson and Michael Bouchard did not like a big popular gay nightclub operating in their county. I was in the club that night, and 30 officers and deputies in plainclothes and SWAT gear gear poured into Cobalt and forced everyone up against the wall with their hands up. While nothing of note was found, the police later claimed the club was a hotbed of drugs and strippers. They forced Cobalt to close permanently, and the club sits empty to this day on Woodward Avenue. It was a huge embarrassment for the LGBT community and for Ferndale.

It was also Sheriff Bouchard who led his NET team to raid the first legal medical marijuana compassion clinic to open in Oakland County in 2009. Ferndale residents had voted four times to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize all marijuana. After the entire state voted to do the same eight years ago, the City of Ferndale spent a year researching the legal issues, developing zoning policies for clinics, going through the planning process, and developing ordinances to open a dispensary called Clinical Relief. Within a few weeks of cutting the ribbon, the Sheriff came in with his SWAT team, snarling dogs and automatic weapons, throwing the business' employees to the ground and handcuffing them all. They shuttered Clinical Relief and the court cases are still languishing to this day. This sheriff has spent huge resources fighting against patients with cancer, AIDS and other disorders from accessing helpful medicine that he still regards as a schedule one narcotic.

When Bouchard spoke at a candlelight vigil for Orlando held in downtown Ferndale this year, he exhorted the largely gay crowd to "go out tomorrow and give blood," being completely unaware that gay men have been largely prohibited from donating blood for 30 years.

LGBT voters and their allies should also vote in Oakland County to re-elect Clerk Lisa Brown. Remember that her Republican predecessor Bill Bullard Jr., along with Brooks Patterson and the Republican led County Commission, had led the fight against same-sex marriage. Brooks Patterson famously said during that struggle that if gay people could get married, then he should be allowed to marry his dog. But it was Lisa Brown who opened the Clerk's office in Pontiac on a Saturday during that window period a few years back that allowed dozens of couples to marry before the Supreme Court finally ruled for marriage equality.

Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash is also being challenged by a Republican opponent. Beyond Jim's lifelong fight for the environment and his efforts to protect the regions lakes, rivers and streams, he has also attended Gay Pride Festivals every year. Another Republican power broker is running for Oakland County Treasurer against our longtime ally Andy Meisner. Meisner has supported LGBT issues for two decades.

Finally, LGBT voters should remember that it was the Republican establishment, under the leadership of Brooks Patterson and Bouchard, that redistricted and gerrymandered the Oakland County Commission in 2012 that led to the elimination of four Democratic seats. For a decade, the Commission had among its 25 members an openly gay representative, first Dave Coulter, now Ferndale mayor, and then later by me. Gay residents of Royal Oak and Southfield and Oak Park and all across the county lost their single member because of that underhanded move.

LGBT voters and their friends and allies ought to remember these actions taken over the past two decades and vote accordingly. I hope they will remember their allies and vote for people like Vicki Barnett for County Executive, Andy Meisner for County Treasurer, Lisa Brown for Clerk, Jim Nash for Water Resources Commissioner, and Craig Covey for sheriff.

Covey was the first openly gay mayor of Ferndale and ran the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project for 20 years before it became part of the Michigan AIDS Coalition, which merged into Matrix Human Services and is now operating as the MAC Health program under the Matrix umbrella.
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