A coalition of Michigan LGBT groups is taking drastic action to raise awareness about what they call the current "anti-equality" political climate in the state. They're sponsoring a hunger strike that will continue up until the November general election.
The Community Centers Network (CCN), which is composed of Michigan's eight lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community centers, is holding the 100-day fast to educate the public about a number of measures taken by state judges and politicians that they believe violate the rights of people in these communities.
The strike has been divided into 24-hour shifts, with the first shifts being taken by the top leadership of the different community centers. It is taking place behind a glass window at the Affirmations community center in Ferndale, Mich. Participants are only allowed to drink water, coffee or tea. Hunger strikers are already booked through August, although the coalition is still looking for participants and supporters.
The strike began Monday with Affirmations Executive Director David Garcia.
"It's been inspiring to see people walk past the window space with thumbs up and honking their horns. The people reading the giant window signs and people coming in asking questions is exactly why we're doing this," said Garcia.
Affirmations has set up an advocacy center for the strike, so that people passing by can join in their efforts to inform the public about their concerns.
The organizers are particularly incensed about a law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder last December, known as House Bill 4770, that banned domestic partnership benefits for state employees. Same-sex couples are prevented from marrying in Michigan due to a state constitutional amendment.
They're also trying to raise awareness about the fact that members of their communities in Michigan can't get married or have civil unions; can't jointly adopt; can still be fired for being LGBT or perceived as such; and can be denied housing and accommodations based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Although the purpose of the campaign is not to tell people how to vote (a move that might jeopardize coalition member's 501c3 statuses), they have put together an "Equality Hall of Shame" for Michigan politicians they consider to be particularly hostile to their cause.
One of these politicians is State Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville), the legislator who introduced the bill that prevents domestic partners from getting state benefits. In a release last year Agema defended his action.
"Providing benefits for same-sex partners is not the role of the state, particularly when tax dollars are at a premium and there are crucial programs being affected by the decrease in revenue," he said. Agema did not respond to a request for comment from The Huffington Post.
Although Garcia said the response to the strike has been mostly positive, he added that organizers have received nasty emails and even threats. In order to help ensure the protection of the hunger strikers, participants are kept company by a strike supporter after the building is locked for the night.
Garcia argues that part of the reason for the threats and rude comments is that the politicians in their "Hall of Shame" have created an environment where it's okay to mistreat people based on their sexual orientation or gender identities. He hopes the hunger strike will raise awareness about what's happening in Michigan, not just for people who live in the state but for people across the country.
"We also want the country to recognize what's going on in Michigan," he said. "As other states are moving forward. We have none of that. I think it's only beneficial for the rest of the country to rally the troops."
For more information, visit hungry4equality.com.
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