The last time Michigan was in the gay news, it was for SB 137, or “Matt’s Safe School Law,” which ostensibly worked to prevent bullying but, paradoxically, actually gave both students and school employees permission to say anything they wanted, no matter how vitriolic, to any student at all. SB 137, which allowed for virtually any kind of speech or treatment of others so long as it was based in a sincere “moral conviction,” didn’t make it into law, in large part because of public outcry against it. It’s been replaced with HB 4163, which doesn’t explicitly allow teachers or students to taunt others and claim their religious or moral beliefs as a defense, but also doesn’t list “enumerated classes” to be protected from bullying, which many experts say is key to effective legislation.
That doesn’t mean that all is well between the state of Michigan and the gay community, however. After the vote on marriage equality in New York, Janice Daniels posted an update to Facebook that said “I think I am going to throw away my I Love New York carrying bag now that queers can get married there.” Now that Daniels is the newly-elected mayor of Troy, a suburb of Detroit, Daniels’ remark is drawing attention. Last night a protest took place outside Troy’s city hall, with the executive director of Equality Michigan saying “I was shocked. I was appalled. The choice of language underscores an inherent bigotry that manifests itself in discrimination. ” Daniels has been quoted as saying she “may have said something like that,” although she “probably shouldn’t have used that language,” but still believes that marriage is between one man and one woman. Regardless, however, Daniels says she doesn’t dislike gay people. “I love all people. I am human.”
Not far away, in Traverse City an elementary school music teacher is being criticized for his attempt to remove the word “gay” from the Christmas carol “Deck the Halls.” According to the music teacher, it wasn’t an instance of homophobia, but an attempt to keep order in the classroom and stop students from giggling every time the carol was sung. Nonetheless, parents say they’re upset and the school’s principal said he wished it had been used as a teachable moment. The carol’s wording has since been returned to the original for the purposes of the music class.
Meanwhile, in Kalamazoo, the city’s Gay and Lesbian Resource Center has a new executive director, and he’s optimistic about his city’s relationship to the GLBT community.
Zach Bauer, 30, who took over the LGBT education and advocacy group’s top job a few weeks ago, pointed to an ordinance passed overwhelmingly by city of Kalamazoo voters in 2009 that extends anti-discrimination protections to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people as proof that Kalamazoo is a “progressive, grass-roots community.”
A former corpsman in the US Navy and graduate of local Western Michigan University, Bauer is interested in collaborating with other non-profit and faith-based agencies in Kalamazoo. His drive to provide resources, support and education to the local queer community is an inspiring example of what a great place Michigan can be for the LGBT community — a reminder that it’s been a place that people move to because they can get equal benefits for their partners and protection for their families, even if the current administration and some local politicians don’t seem to value that. At least in southern Michigan, the message from the people is clear: they want Michigan to be a safe and accepting place to live. What will it take for politicians to agree?