LGBT Michiganders and their allies from across the state will rally in Lansing on the Capitol steps at noon Wednesday, ahead of Gov. Rick Snyder's "State of the State" address. Their message: Gay Families Matter.
Snyder is expected to talk about Michigan's progress in the past year and his plans for 2012 Wednesday night. But before he does, protesters want to express their disapproval of the governor's support for a law that profoundly impacts their quality of life.
Members of LGBT community groups from across the state will speak out against discriminatory legislation in Michigan, particularly a bill Snyder signed in December that blocks employer health care coverage for unmarried partners of state employees.
Michael Gregor, director of communications for Equality Michigan, the state's largest LGBT advocacy group, believes many Michiganders were disappointed by Snyder's support for the domestic partner benefits ban.
"There's definitely a connection to what's happening here and a radical right wing agenda, and it's unfortunate to see the governor cave in to that," Gregor said. "This is an opportunity to show up and say, 'We're here, we love this place, you're accountable to us and we should have the freedom to live here and take care of our families in the way that everyone in Michigan wants to do.'"
Residents of Ann Arbor, Benton Harbor, Detroit, Ferndale, Grand Rapids, Highland Park, Kalamazoo and Midland will travel to the Capitol. Organizers from community groups in each city will have an opportunity to speak about the legislation and its effect on their communities.
Curtis Lipscomb, executive director of KICK, the Agency for Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Transgender African-Americans, will travel to the rally from Detroit with his staff and supporters.
KICK provides health and wellness services, support groups for people living with AIDS, education and advocacy for LGBT Detroiters, particularly African Americans.
"I believe we are a conduit for a larger movement," Lipscomb said. "We are a part of the larger LGBT family, but a unique one at that."
As a long-time Detroiter, Lipscomb is also concerned about other issues Snyder may address in his speech, like the possibility of the governor appointing an emergency manager for Detroit. But he said the impact of anti-LGBT legislation is the major reason he's driving to Lansing.
"I am most concerned with the issue of equality," Lipscomb said.
Equality Michigan's Gregor expects Snyder will avoid LGBT concerns in his "State of the State" address, but he hopes public officials will take notice of the rally.
"We're at a point where gay and transgender people in the state are fed up, and they're taxpaying voters who are being ignored by their representatives," he said. "We've seen a lot of anti-gay and anti-transgender rhetoric and action in Lansing in 2011, especially since the Republican majority took over and the governor started in office."
Equality Michigan is paying close attention to legislation in the state House and Senate it says would be detrimental to LGBT Michiganders. One bill could prevent local governments from providing nondiscrimination protections to LGBT people, and another bill would allow university counseling providers to refuse treatment based on religious beliefs. A third would prohibit public funding from being used for medically necessary sex-reassignment surgery.
According to the Grand Rapids Press, Snyder has expressed frustration about Republican state lawmakers pushing social issues.
When he ran for office in 2010, Snyder planned to avoid social issues, instead saying his focus was on the state's economy and job creation.
In a statement on the domestic partner benefits ban, the governor's office referred to Snyder's decision to sign the law as a fiscal measure that will "address the spiraling costs of health care and other post-retirement benefits over the past year."
But Gregor says the domestic partner benefits ban works against Snyder's plans for economic recovery.
"It flies in the face of his rhetoric about having a welcoming state, applying best practices in business and recruiting and retaining a skilled workforce," Gregor explained. "An action like that is really detrimental to a lot of those goals."
In early January, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against Snyder over the law.