This Is Our Time In Michigan

Soul Of The State Is At Stake

By Jon Hoadley

Lansing isn't working for us.

Over the last few years we've seen amazing advances for LGBT people. Support for marriage equality has increased across the country, even to the point of winning at the ballot box in four states this last November. It's possible that President Obama may even ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in federal contractors in the next year. And let's not forget the numerous advances at federal agencies to protect LGBT people and our families. But that isn't happening in Michigan. Over the last two years, our political process in Lansing has failed us, and my prediction for 2013 is that LGBT people and our allies have had enough of it.

Science, public opinion, and common sense agree: LGBT people are a vital part of the fabric of Michigan and it is time our politicians acknowledged us. Progress in Lansing has stalled for LGBT families - no nondiscrimination protections, no comprehensive bullying protections, no adoption protections...nothing. The only thing close to a win was a bullying bill, but it specifically removed references to LGBT kids, one of the groups needing protections the most. 2013 has to be the year to start something different.

In 2012, we saw Mt. Pleasant and Union Township pass nondiscrimination ordinances, bringing the total number of municipalities with nondiscrimination protections up to 20. These ordinances are the result of local residents saying they've had enough of government for the people and by the people not including LGBT people.

2013 could see a wave of similar ordinances across the state where local political leaders are willing to work with local residents to not only do the right thing, but also send a message to Lansing that municipalities won't sit idly by as the legislature cares more about what Dick DeVos thinks than what is best for families and kids.

LGBT issues are just the tip of the iceberg.

Governor Snyder and the legislature showed their true colors when they rushed through over 250 bills in a three-week period after the November elections. They specifically took aim at the allies of LGBT people, including unions, middle class workers, women's health advocates, and government accountability advocates. The purposes of the bills weren't to make Michigan better. Rather, many of the bills were a cynical attempt to weaken the political power of people who disagree with conservative donors.

Let's take a look at the passage of Govern Snyder's Right to Work for Less bill. We know there's no rational economic reason to pass these bills. States that have similar laws see the average worker, union or non-union, earn $1,500 less per year. We know this isn't about worker freedom since already no one can be forced to join a union. Ultimately, this is about weakening unions and making it harder to negotiate contracts for middle class families. That's bad for a long-term ally in the movement for LGBT equality, but also for the LGBT families that depend on decent wages and domestic partnership benefits negotiated through union contracts.

We won't get the advances towards equality we're looking for with the politicians who are supposed to represent us answering to the few who fund their campaigns, not actual voters. And we're certainly not going to get to full equality with the political deck stacked against us.

Here's another prediction for 2013: there will be a real conversation about the need to start leveling the playing field to put everyday voters on the same plane as big money corporate donors.

Gerrymandered districts and secret donations fueled many of the 2012 elections. How, in a world where Sen. Stabenow won by about 20 points and President Obama won in Michigan by about 10 points, do we have a Republican controlled state house? It's because in 2010 when legislative district lines were redrawn in Michigan, politicians chose their voters instead of voters choosing their politicians. Take a look at the state legislative map. It looks like a slice of Swiss cheese, not a fair representation of our state. And of course, all of this was helped with the aid of some of the least transparent laws about political and lobbying money in the country.

It's sad, but I'm not surprised when I hear people say negative things about government. In fact, some of the people who say the worst things about government are the legislators who, in fact, have the power to change things. But they don't because the people who fund their campaigns don't want to see those rules changed.

In 2013, we will begin a larger conversation about the heart and soul of Michigan, our government, the rules we choose to live by, and who is accountable to whom. I predict this is a conversation Michigan is ready to have and the LGBT community will be a key part of it.

If I were to offer one final prediction for 2013 it would be that this year will be setting the stage for some major changes in 2014. Our 2014 elections may be even more important than the 2012 elections. We need a new governor, a new legislature, and some major changes at the ballot box. And we, LGBT people and our allies, need to be leading the charge. This is our time and the stakes are just too high.

Jon Hoadley currently serves director of the UNITY Michigan Coalition. The UNITY Michigan Coalition works to ensure that all Michiganders are treated fairly in the workplace by advancing nondiscrimination policies. It includes ACLU of Michigan, Affirmations, Equality Michigan, KICK, the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion and the Ruth Ellis Center. Follow UNITY at http://www.unitymichigan.org/. To read about Mt. Pleasant's ordinance, passed in July, go to http://gaybe.am/y6.

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