West BloomfieldJune 19, 2012
Lawmaker joins ‘Monologues’ after vagina remark
It was her second public presentation dealing with private parts in the span of a week.
Days after Michigan Republicans penalized state Rep. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield, for a speech in which she referenced her vagina, she joined supportive colleagues and actors June 18 to stage “The Vagina Monologues” on the state Captiol’s steps.
The play, created by playwright Eve Ensler, is based on characters who speak frankly about womanhood and sexuality.
Brown, 45, said she participated as part of the show’s introduction. Ensler also attended the Lansing rendition, and she took time to meet with Brown. The two reportedly sat next to each other, conversed and did an interview together on MSNBC’s “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.”
Brown said the experience was hard to put into words.
“I think that it reminded women that we need to speak up for ourselves, and we shouldn’t be treated as second-class citizens,” she said.
The word heard ‘round the world
Brown participated in play after events that were sparked by her June 13 remarks on House Bill 5711, a proposal to regulate abortion. After giving arguments discussing abortion from a Jewish perspective, Brown closed her House floor address by saying: "And finally, Mr. Speaker, I'm flattered that you're all so interested in my vagina, but no means no," she said.
According to Brown, the reference was prepared in advance. After she spoke, Speaker Pro Tem John Walsh, R-Livonia, used his gavel. At the time, Brown said, she had no reason to believe that she was in any trouble.
But when she wanted to speak on teacher retirement reform the next day, the Democratic floor leader reportedly informed Brown that Republicans had banned her from speaking.
Brown said Republicans and House leadership didn’t tell her the reason. “I was just completely baffled,” she said.
Word of the punishment spread across the media and attracted ire from Democrats.
GOP: ‘vagina’ no trigger
Ari Adler, press secretary for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said the outrage over Brown’s treatment began to “blow way up out of proportion” due in part to what he called misinformation.
Adler said the reason Brown was gaveled “had nothing to do with the use of the word ‘vagina.’” He also said it had nothing to do with Brown’s gender, Jewish faith or the topic of the bill.
Instead, the problem was the way in which she made her statement, he said.
“She was comparing the legislation that we were debating to the rape of women,” Adler said. “Rep. Walsh felt that that was over the line, so he gaveled that down.”
Adler said House Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas, R-Midland, generally makes the call on who may publicly speak when the House is in session. He said that when Democrats held the House a few years ago, the political climate made it rare for Republicans to be recognized to speak.
“The difference this time is, Jim Stamas was very upfront about it with the House Democratic (leaders),” he said. “He said he did not plan on letting her be recognized. … That’s the unprecedented part — being very upfront about it.”
Adler added that Brown’s lack of recognition was a one-day punishment. “We’re done with it, and when we get to session July 18 … we will continue to set a professional decorum in the House of Representatives,” he said.
Brown looks ahead
But Brown was skeptical about the GOP’s stated reasons, adding that they have sent out multiple statements.
“I didn’t break any House rules,” she said. “That was when they first came out with was decorum. Without a doubt, that was a reference to the word ‘vagina.’”
When asked how the controversy would affect her campaign for Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds this year, she said her mission is to prevent people from being silenced by voter suppression tactics.
“I want to ensure that every vote counts, that everyone get a right to vote,” she said. “I will stand up for everyone to make sure that their voice is heard.”
HB 5711, the abortion regulation bill, passed the House 70-39 June 13. The bill awaits action in the Michigan Senate.
To learn more about HB 5711, visit www.legislature.mi.gov.
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