“Equal rights for women, minorities and gay, lesbian and transgender people are critical to building a better Michigan.” - Jeff Irwin
Equality is Essential
I want to live in a state where we treat our fellow residents with respect. I want my family to live and grow in an environment rich with different cultures, ideas and influences. Extending equal rights to women, African-Americans, gay, lesbian and transgender individuals is a basic element of that goal.
Unfortunately, just six years ago, we wrote a shameful provision into our state constitution that prevents gay and lesbian couples from enjoying the benefits afforded to straight couples. As a result, many Michiganians were denied health care benefits, and many more scrambled to obviate the tangible effects of an embarrassing Supreme Court ruling. Undoing the intangible effects of that mistake will require ripping those words out of our constitution.
We also need some honesty in our public discourse around race. Michigan is a highly segregated state. Our communities in Michigan are almost exclusively white or black and the history of Detroit’s decline is inextricably linked with bigotry and racial animus. As uncomfortable as it is to acknowledge our very real struggle with bigotry, ending prejudice and embracing diversity is a critical aspect of building a better Michigan. Michigan will be at its best when we open our hearts and minds to the world, starting with our neighbors.
I am committed to the continuing struggle for human rights. I am proud to be part of a community that shares these values and I believe that Ann Arbor has an opportunity and an obligation to represent these concerns aggressively in Lansing. As a County Commissioner, I have stood up for domestic partner benefits, women’s rights to equality in health care and equal treatment under the law. That’s why you can count on me to be a champion for human rights in Lansing.
Battling bigotry is difficult and I won’t promise that we can erase the racism and fear that has been simmering in Michigan, but I will work with civil rights and LGBT organizations to advance policies that will improve our communities.
Here are some of the specific changes that I will propose:
- Eliminate the Bigotry in Michigan Law: Together with LGBT individuals and organizations, I will seek to eliminate the bigotry enshrined in our laws. I will propose repeal of the marriage ban, but I will also advance bills addressing the main avenues of discrimination in Michigan law. Specifically, I will propose extending second parent adoption, visitation, inheritance and other legal rights that are currently denied to gay and lesbian families.
- Equality for Women in Health Care: Equal provision of health care benefits between males and females is an important responsibility of the state. Michigan should require equal treatment of all citizens by requiring insurers to cover contraceptive care and preventative screenings specific to both genders. Also, I will propose requiring emergency rooms to supply emergency contraception to survivors of sexual assault.
- The Right to Choice: Not since Roe v. Wade has a woman’s right to choose been more under pressure. Conservative judges are looking to undo our previous victories on this issue, and limited access to contraception and abortion is becoming a greater and greater barrier to responsible family planning. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. As your legislator I will fight to preserve that right and to extend access to the full range of health care services throughout Michigan.
- Safe Schools: I support policies that promote schools as a refuge from verbal abuse and physical violence. A good example of this idea in action is: Matt’s Safe School law.
- Environmental Justice: Unfortunately, the correlation between race, land values and industrial zoning results in stark inequalities. Minorities are more likely to suffer from poor health caused by pollution. Asthma, cancer and other ailments caused or exacerbated by pollution are more prevalent in minority communities. This is a challenging problem that Michigan should address by following through on Gov. Granholm’s 2007 executive order. More specifically, when state regulators are considering granting a permit to pollute, they should be required to consider the cumulative impact of that pollution on nearby residents. Today, those decisions are made in a vacuum. As your legislator I will move to require that the state consider the total impact of a new polluter and assure that the new emissions will not put the public at risk.
- Racism in Criminal Justice: Racism is a tough subject; but we avoid it at our peril. Avoidance of difficult issues only exacerbates the underlying problem. One obvious example is the disproportionate contingent of African-American prisoners in our jails and prisons. At the Washtenaw County jail, 2/3rds of the male population is African-American, more than triple the representation in the general public. I will propose a number of tactics to address this problem that is so costly for the state treasury and the communities of color that endure both high rates of crime and incarceration. Most importantly, we must reduce recidivism if we hope to stop this cycle of victimization, incarceration and mutual impoverishment. Greater investments in re-entry programs and a greater focus on diverting the mentally ill and non-violent criminals out of the prison system are the best means of reducing the financial and societal damage. These issues can also be addressed through greater flexibility in sentencing and better training of law enforcement, especially in terms of addressing mental health issues appropriately.