A panel in the Wolverine Room of the Michigan Union Thursday night discussd the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, highlighting political and social changes over time and the continued need for advocacy to fight against discrimination.
The panel, hosted by the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats, consisted of Jim Toy, founder of the Spectrum Center and Jim Toy Community Center; Kelly Maxwell, academic co-director and lecturer of Intergroup Relations; Rose Maxwell, systems engineer at the Ford Motor Company; and Jason Morgan, director of government and community relations at Washtenaw Community College.
Business junior Paul Guilfoyle, chair of the Stonewall Committee within College Democrats, said the event’s purpose was to support the LGBTQ+ community and identify the issues they face.
“A lot of people think that after the same-sex marriage ban was overturned the LGBTQ community’s work was done,” he said. “We feel it’s really important to address the other issues still remaining that the community faces at this time.”
The panel discussed how pushes for civil rights within the community were sparked following the Stonewall Riots, a series of spontaneous demonstrations in New York City in June 1969, and culminated in the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage in June 2015.
Kelly said she has seen a massive difference in rights even during her lifetime.
“From the 1990s to the present, it is a huge cultural shift,” she said.
State, city and campus policies on preventing LGBTQ discrimination are mixed. Under current Michigan law, the Elliott Larsen Act prohibits discrimination based on a variety of factors including sex, race and religion in the state of Michigan but does not account for sexual orientation or gender expression. In December 1972, Ann Arbor stepped beyond state law and amended its anti-discrimination ordinance to include protections for sexual orientation, which Toy co-authored. The provision was further expanded in October 2014 to include provisions for gender expression and identity, survivors of domestic violence, political beliefs, genetic information, arrest record and familial status.
At the University, the Board of Regents adopted an amendment including protection on the basis of gender identity and gender expression in the University’s bylaws’ non-discrimination clause in September 2007.
During the panel, Toy recounted his attendance at the Board of Regents meeting when they voted on the amendment, saying he worked on the issue for over 20 years.
“We advocated for two decades to add sexual orientation to our University’s non-discrimination bylaws,” he said. “One day, I got a call from a friend who said ‘Get your butt over to the Regents’ meeting. They’re going to vote up this amendment.’ So over I went, and they voted it up.”
Morgan, who is running for Washtenaw County city commissioner, discussed his experiences in politics, noting that running for office as an openly gay man may be problematic in other areas, but not in Ann Arbor.
On the national level, few politicians are openly gay. Only seven members of Congress are openly gay or bisexual, despite 3.4 percent of the U.S. adult population identifying themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender according to Gallup Poll.
“My mom, when she found out, sat me down and said, ‘You are never going to be able to work in politics if you’re gay,’ ” he said. “She genuinely meant it as a worry for me, but there’s nothing I can do about being gay — I’m not going to hide it. I’m certain that no one in Ann Arbor that’s going to vote for me anyway is not going to because I’m gay.”
The panelists also each made recommendations for how to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, highlighting the importance of interacting with state legislators and speaking openly about the issues facing the community.
Maxwell said openly participating in the discussion and making people more aware of the issue can have a large impact.
“Be active, be vocal and be out there so they can see us,” she said. “We were invisible for so long, and it’s amazing what just showing your face does.”
LSA freshman Kellie Lounds, who attended the event, said she thought it was key in informing the population on issues facing the LGBTQ+ community.
“I feel like it’s really important to educate yourself to be aware of how you can actively help other people,” she said. “This is a really great opportunity to do so because it was a very candid discussion.”