A Michigan GOP official recently posted on Facebook that he believes that being gay is similar to alcoholism. Former Republican State Rep. Dave Agema has been getting a lot of press for his anti-gay comments. The good news is that even though the national party recently reaffirmed Agema's stance, many members of the GOP have nothing but criticism for it. The situation highlights how Michigan has moved forward on this issue.
In the last decade I've seen a massive shift in how Michiganders think about LGBT rights. In 2004, when I was 17, just a few months before I received the right to vote, I was forced to watch as the voters of Michigan stood in judgement of all LGBT citizens by voting for Proposition 2, which wrote a ban on gay marriage into the state constitution.
At the time I was one of only three people in my high school who were openly gay. In the years since, almost half a dozen of my former classmates from high school have come out. The way this has affected the community in my middle-class hometown is clear.
Four years ago, when I was serving in the Navy, I went back to my high school to talk to students in the video production department about the Navy Mass Communications program. I was floored not just by the number of students who were considering serving their country during a time of war but by the number of students who were concerned about "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT), which was still far from being repealed. Just given the number of young men and women who felt comfortable asking me questions, I knew that things had improved since I was in high school.
Now I'm astonished to see how leaders in the Michigan GOP have taken members of their own party to task for bigoted, anti-gay comments. As more and more young people come out in Michigan, the state has seen a seismic shift in public opinion, with 56 percent of the population in support of gay marriage. Citizens of all kinds are not willing to accept the public abuse and harassment of their children, co-workers and employees.
Moreover, schools and universities have been scrambling to enact inclusive student policies and fight bullying. Situations like the one that took place in the South Lyon School District last year are now rare and shocking. In Troy, Mich., a conservative city in Michigan's wealthiest county, former mayor Janice Daniels was recalled from office for making homophobic comments.
The birthplace of the assembly line, the United Autoworkers and Aviation Union, the black middle class and worker solidarity doesn't have any room for bigotry. With the state recovering from a lost decade, the community that is left behind is taking an approach where all hands are on deck. The sense of economic togetherness has made anti-gay bigotry a simple issue: If it's not building jobs, scrap it. Though our state might not take the flashy approach of other states, that's just how Michigan is: We build stuff here.
Unfortunately, Michigan has a long way to go in repairing its ailing gay community. Many gay people of my generation, who have lived between total political rejection and greater acceptance in their state, are moving to places like Illinois, New York and California. They're looking to find larger gay communities and more accepting laws. Fewer young people choose to live and work in Michigan in general, and it's having a corrosive effect on the already rusty Metro Detroit region.
As my generation struggles with the state's past, it's encouraging to see former Rep. Agema take a good beating from the state and national GOP. Though it's always sad to hear about public officials holding ignorant views, the encouraging truth is that, these days, they are the minority.