FerndaleAugust 8, 2012
Affirmations protests inequality with 100-day hunger strike
By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer
FERNDALE — Local members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community are protesting inequality and discrimination in Michigan by keeping their mouths shut.
The Affirmations community center, located in downtown Ferndale at 290 W. Nine Mile Road, is leading the charge with a 100-day hunger strike that began on July 30. The Community Centers Network, which consists of eight LGBT-friendly organizations from all over the state, is coming together to continue the strike all the way through the general election on Nov. 6.
The strike launched with Affirmations Executive Director David Garcia carrying out the first day by living on display in the front window of Affirmations. It proceeded for the next week with key leaders from Michigan’s seven remaining LGBT community centers traveling from as far away as Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Midland and Benton Harbor to serve their own 24-hour shifts.
“We are really using this as an opportunity to educate the local community,” Garcia explained. “I want to be clear that we are not trying to make fun of hunger or starvation or to disrespect the efforts of people like Gandhi in any way. We’re just trying to say that we are hungry for equality. That’s what this is all about.”
Garcia asserted that Michigan’s existing laws prevent LGBT citizens from having the same rights and benefits as heterosexuals. These include restrictions from getting married, adopting children and obtaining health care benefits for partners of public employees. In addition, LGBT citizens can be legally fired from their jobs and denied public accommodation and housing, because sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected under Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
And the situation could soon get even worse, Garcia said, with new legislation on the table such as a House Bill 5039, which would prohibit municipalities from adopting nondiscrimination ordinances that include LGBT residents; House Bill 5040, which would allow university counseling, psychology and social work programs to refuse service to LGBT clients; and Senate Bill 975, which would give health care providers, insurance companies and employers the right to deny their services based on a moral exemption.
In response, the Community Centers Network created an “Equality Rights Hall of Shame” featuring who they believe are the top six politicians in Michigan pushing for anti-equality legislation. The list includes state Rep. David Agema, R-Grandville; state House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall; Troy Mayor Janice Daniels; Attorney General Bill Schutte; state Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester; the conservative majority of the Michigan Supreme Court; and Gary Glenn, the former U.S. Senate candidate and current president of the American Family Association of Michigan.
“The bottom line,” Garcia said, “is that the people in our Hall of Shame have created an environment in Michigan that is so anti-gay that some people now think it is perfectly OK to talk and act in a bigoted way toward the gay community. And that’s because they are just following the example of their political leaders. These people have created a climate that has arguably made Michigan the most homophobic state in the nation.”
Throughout the 100-day strike, participants will serve 24-hour shifts in the designated area near the front window of Affirmations. From 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., when the community center is closed, each striker will be accompanied by a strike supporter for safety reasons and to keep them company overnight. Affirmations is asking LGBT allies who do not wish to participate directly in the hunger strike to become advocates by reaching out to their state legislators or to show financial support by making a donation to the LGBT community center closest to them.
Garcia noted that Affirmations already has enough time slots filled to cover the month of August, but organizers are still looking for more strikers. A number of local officials have already voiced their approval of the campaign, though none have agreed to strike in Affirmations’ front window. These include Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh; Oakland County Commissioner Craig Covey, D-Ferndale; and Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter.
“I’m very supportive of what they are doing,” said Covey, who is openly gay, “and I may do my own personal hunger strike along with them. I really think we need to draw more attention to all of the reactionary policies against gay people in Michigan. A lot of the state Republicans are acting like they’re drunk on power right now.”
Coulter, who is also gay, agreed. “I think this is a really creative and interesting way to raise awareness about all of the inequalities that still exist in our state,” he said. “So many of these basic fairness issues are still a problem in Michigan, unfortunately, and a lot of our straight allies don’t even realize it.”
This was a common theme between Garcia, Covey and Coulter. All three said that when they have discussed these issues with their straight friends and neighbors, most are completely unaware of the existing inequalities. And while their reaction is typically one of shock and outrage, they are rarely motivated to take action.
Garcia is hoping to change that pattern. “We have to significantly raise the level of awareness about these problems because educated people always make much better advocates,” he said. “We need more people outside of the gay community to step up and be vocal about this. Our straight allies need to come out of the closet.”
For more information about the Community Centers Network’s 100-day hunger strike, contact Affirmations at (248) 398-7105 or at www.goaffirmations.org.
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