Truth and Meaning: The Irony of Narrative

“How can you be a minster and have such hatred in your heart for the white race and the nation in general?”

No, I did not receive this message. This sentence was in one of the thousands of pieces of hate mail Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received during his lifetime.

But, I have received similar expressions. People have called me a hundred different derogatory names, belittled my credentials and misrepresented my opinions. If that is the price for taking public positions and seeking to expand the discourse on difficult, even painful issues, then I accept.

The recent growth of the Black Lives Matter movement has given rise to some interesting and ironic arguments. Many Americans take tremendous pride in the manner by which our nation was founded. As oppressed peoples, we rebelled violently against our oppressors, even resorting to nontraditional tactics in that day to kill our enemy. We rebelled against unfair taxation, under-representation, restraint of our livelihoods and the excessive militarization of the government’s law enforcement agents.
Does this sound familiar? In the wealthiest nation in the world, we still have aggressively systemic poverty that disproportionately affects people of color. Our criminal justice system detains and convicts African American suspects to a far greater degree than those with light skin. The voting rights of minorities are under constant siege. And hardly a week passes without another brutal and almost completely avoidable execution of a black person by police.
We fund a war machine to the tune of trillions while we cut funding to school lunches and early childhood education. We call welfare recipients freeloaders and leeches while candidates for president brag about declaring bankruptcy and defaulting on their debts to hard working people who performed services for them in good faith. We begrudge people a living minimum wage while corporate CEO pay exceeds the cost of a minivan for one day of work.
If Tamir Rice had been your son playing in Plymouth Park, wouldn’t you be angry? If the police pulled you over routinely for “driving while white,” wouldn’t you be frustrated? If your child got sent to prison for the possession of marijuana while bankers who destroyed our economy received a bailout, wouldn’t you feel hopeless?
If so, then you feel a fraction of what most Black people in America feel every day.
The American narrative rightfully evokes a spirit of pride and patriotism. Like hundreds of millions, I love America. But, I have trouble loving America when it resembles 18th century England in its treatment of those it treats as lesser citizens. I cannot meld the theory of American freedom and justice with the current reality faced by our poor, our people of color, our gay and transgender people and other oppressed Americans.
The Founders of our country were religious men and women, people of faith. They had faith that their cause was just and that they had the right to self-determination and fair treatment. Americans today have those same expectations. But the promise of our Founders remains unfulfilled because of racism, homophobia, sexism, ageism, xenophobia and many other forms of intolerance.
I support the #BlackLivesMatter movement because it serves as a wake-up call to those who love America. This movement reminds us of those left behind by the American dream, those still abandoned by our lofty principles. The time is long overdue for us to make good on the promise of the American Revolution to free all of the prisoners, to feed the hungry and house the homeless, and to give hope to those without hope.

Truth and Meaning: Mold in the Cellar

The first time I exited Business 10 onto Patrick, I saw the sign: “Midland: City of Modern Explorers.” I remember feeling hopeful that my new home would be progressive and warm. Since then, I have met many friendly and caring people in Midland. I have befriended future-oriented, justice-seeking people in the area. Midland offers amenities of a city many times its size, and is a great place for parents to raise their children.

But under the foundation of the City of Modern Explorers grows a mold. It spreads during the cold dampness of night in the sickly detritus of decay. It eats away at our compassion and understanding. It mocks our modern, forward focus and stifles our exploring nature with fear and bigotry.
Unless we explore our own cellar, we might live unaware of this destructive cancer. If we dismiss the stench of hate and the foul erosion of community, then our City of Modern Explorers may well become a hollow shell of platitudes build on the sandy ground of empty promises.
Recently, a thief vandalized the flag pole in front of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship that I serve, and stole flags representing our public witness. This was the third time in recent months that someone has taken flags from our property. One flag was the flag of our faith – the chalice of Unitarian Universalism. The others were symbols of our support of equality for gay, bisexual and transgender people. The police shrugged the act off as random nuisance. I do not.
Since moving here, I have inspected Midland’s basement and exposed the mold growing in its shadows. This malignant rot wants to stay hidden and so it attacks in the only way it knows – through intimidation, bullying, insinuation, and taunts. The mold tells you what you want to hear – that everything is alright and that you don’t need to change anything.
I ask you to ignore this lie, because we do need to change something in Midland. If we care about this city, then we need to confront this infestation in our cellar and see it for what it really is. Corruption. Hypocrisy. Arrogance. Evil. If we want Midland to remain a bastion of science and reason, of education, and of family activities and love, then we need to put on our haz-mat suits and enter the basement.
After our flags disappeared, the Midland Daily News published an article about the crime. It did not take long for the mold to spread its spores, suggesting that my congregation had committed this act ourselves as a public relations ploy. I challenged the author to offer proof of his allegation, which of course he could not. In response, however, he posted this black and white image on my Rev. Jeff Liebmann public figure page on Facebook.

The image sickened me. I hope you can forgive me for feeling the urgency to share this foul drawing with you. In particular, I hope that my Jewish brothers and sisters will forgive sharing such an all too familiar drawing. But, I have read much about propaganda and the growth of Nazi Germany in the 1930’s. The image clearly intends to mimic similar posters created by the Nazis to rile up Antisemitism among the German people, posters like the one shown, which was printed by the Nazis for use in Russia. Look at the two images. Compare the features of the figure, unmistakably meant to mock Jewish people and make it possible to hate them and blame them for social problems. One is more than 80 years old. The other is barely a toddler.
This is how propaganda works. The message attacks people at the fringes, those whose numbers are too small to defend themselves effectively – the Other. Propaganda blames all social woes on the Other, shouting that the Other is inferior and therefore undeserving of our compassion or sympathy. When we see these messages, we might be tempted to write them off as perhaps objectionable, but mostly harmless. Perhaps we discuss the limits of free speech and how we define hate speech. But, in the end, we avoid the conflict and wait for the event to blow over and be forgotten.
Unfortunately, such images are not harmless, nor are they forgotten – and they ARE hate speech. They are not harmless, because some people actually believe the message. They believe the message and the mold slowly takes hold of their souls. They are hate speech because they are cowardly lies fabricated by people raised to believe that they are superior and that their interests matter more than the welfare of others. They are lies because they perpetuate discredited stereotypes and shun facts and evidence like sunlight.
As a religious person, I love my neighbors – all of my neighbors. I seek justice and equality for all people, whatever their culture or ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, immigrant or veteran status, level of ability, or religion. I do this because this is a principle of my faith, to affirm and promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations. So I witness publicly against expressions of hate, prejudice, and bigotry. I witness for the oppressed who cannot change the oppressive paradigms of society themselves. And I witness for you, so that you will know the nature of the disease infecting the foundation of our community.
The late social and civil rights activist Julian Bond once spoke at the General Assembly of Unitarian Universalist Congregations at a lecture I was privileged to attend. He told this story. 

Two men are sitting by a river and see, to their great surprise, a helpless baby floating by. They rescue the child, and to their horror, another baby soon comes floating down the stream. When that child is pulled to safety, another baby comes along. 

As one man plunges into the river a third time, the other rushes upstream. “Come back!” yells the man in the water. “We must save this baby!”

“You save it,” the other yells back. “I’m going to find out who is throwing babies in the river and I’m going to make them stop!”

I am rushing upstream and ask you to join me. The mold eats away at Midland’s foundation every day, but we have the power to stop its spread. We can do this by proclaiming that all people should have equal rights regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Not special rights; equal rights. We can do this by proclaiming that Black Lives Matter; of course all lives matter, but right now we need to show that Black lives matter as much as our own. We can do this by loving our neighbors – all of our neighbors – whether they are Christian or Atheist, Jewish or Muslim, Hindu or Sikh, Buddhist or Agnostic.
Most of all, we need to stand up to bullies and reveal them for what they are – damaged and insecure people nurtured with the stagnant waters of ignorance, the stifling heat of fear, and the cold oppressive brightness of privilege and prejudice.

Truth and Meaning: I Am Racist

Since erecting a “Black Lives Matter” sign, some people have called the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Midland a “racist church.” I suppose the truth of such an assertion depends largely on the definition we apply to the word “racist.” So, let me make this easier by discussing myself in this context.

I am racist. Me, Jeff Liebmann, I am racist. Now, what do I mean by that? I mean that as a person identified as white in a society where being identified as white is a privilege, I am by definition racist. I benefit from my inherent whiteness, whether I want to or not.
This does not make me a bad person. Just as I did nothing to earn my white privilege, I could not stop society from bestowing that privilege on me. Therefore, until I learned that this imbalance existed, I was not to blame for the privilege I received, even though I unknowingly took full advantage of that privilege.
That said, it did not take long for me to learn that I was privileged in this society because of my skin color. In school, I studied slavery, the Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights movement. I read the writings of Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, Ralph Ellison, and bell hooks. I grappled with the guilt and shame that I was somehow responsible for injustice and inequality that I felt might be inherent in our society.
I was racist. And I was a racist. I was a racist because I was not yet doing anything to eliminate racism. I had not yet learned how to use my privilege to create space for people of color in America to speak for themselves and to be heard. So I attended workshops on community organizing and anti-racism/anti-oppression. I practiced being an ally to people of color. And I helped other whites understand privilege and its pernicious effects.
I am still racist. Barring a radical social revolution, I will retain my white privilege for the rest of my life. So I am still racist. But I am working very hard at not being a racist. That may sound like a subtle distinction, but it is not. All people who possess privilege are by definition oppressive. But they don’t have to be oppressors. I am racist because I possess privilege I did not earn. But I try to use that privilege to create a society where privilege does not exist. I am racist, but I am trying to not be a racist.
So, by my definition, is the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Midland racist? Yes. Because our membership happens to be predominately white in a society, and in particular in a city where whiteness is privileged, then we are racist.
Is the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Midland a racist church? We are trying very hard not to be. By erecting our Black Lives Matter banner, we tell our neighbors in Midland that racism is alive and well and that we are working to eliminate it. Through study and reflection, we are seeking ways to end systemic oppression of people of color in our society. And through our public witness, we hope to use our privilege to create a space for oppressed voices to be heard.
The arc of the moral universe is long, and we cannot see its path over the horizon. But we believe that that arc bends toward justice.

Truth and Meaning: Black Lives Matter

America is a great nation, a beacon to the world. America represents an ideal to many people around the globe: an ideal of freedom; an ideal of opportunity; an ideal of equality.

In America, everyone’s life matters because everyone has the chance to succeed, to better their lives. Everyone’s life matters because our system of laws protects us, and our social network supports us in times of need. Everyone’s life matters because our Founders declared that we the people are created equal.
However, every life in America does not matter equally. All lives do not matter equally because all lives do not begin equally. Wealth affords some children opportunities unavailable to poor children. Boys have a better chance to earn more than girls, and to enter a greater variety of occupations. Heterosexuals face none of the legal discrimination and socially sanctioned prejudice endured by gays and lesbians.
But the single largest determinant of inequality in America is skin color. So, while all lives matter, the reality of America is that the lives of people with dark skin do not matter as much as those with pale skin.
Black people are not inherently inferior. White people are not inherently oppressive. But our history created an uneven playing field and we have yet to fully correct for the tilt.
Almost a century passed in our nation’s history until African Americans were freed from the bonds of slavery. Yet, they were still systematically denied access to homes, jobs, voting, and many other basic services and rights that Whites took for granted. Even when African American communities did succeed, Whites destroyed them through violence (e.g the Tulsa Race Riots), or through “urban renewal,” which helped create many inner city ghettos.
And yet, in spite of sundown towns, racial cleansings, red-lining and segregation, African Americans succeeded in climbing the ladder toward the American dream. Even without inherited wealth, civil rights and equal education and health care, many endured and thrived.
All of that effort, however, remains threatened still today by the evil shadow of racism. Hardly a day passes that another Black life is not taken under bizarre circumstances by police, a shameful situation that most White people would never have to consider. Imagine you are driving down the street. A police car passes you and soon makes a U-turn. The police car speeds up until it is tailgating you. You pull over, assuming the officer is heading to some emergency call.
If you are White, does the possibility that you will end up dead in a jail cell even cross your mind? Even when you are pulled over, do you worry about anything more than receiving a minor traffic citation? Of course not. But many Black people do.
Sandra Bland is dead because of her dark skin. Had she been White, the officer likely doesn’t even turn around. Had she been White, the traffic stop would have ended in a citation and “Have a nice day!” Had she been White, she wouldn’t have been assaulted, arrested and thrown in jail. Had Bland been the same vibrant, 28-year-old college graduate with light skin, odds are that she would not be dead today.
Church burnings, the Charleston 9, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and countless other stupid and senseless acts of deadly violence against African Americans tell us that Black lives do not matter as much as others in 2015 America. That is why the #BlackLivesMatter movement was created and must be understood and respected. Co-opting this message to other purposes simply tells African Americans, once again, that their lives, their creative ideas and their concerns do not matter.
Reading this paper, you are likely thinking that you have never used a racial slur. You have never supported the KKK or other White supremacist groups. You believe in loving your neighbor, and would never dream of hurting someone simply because of their skin color.
But, if you were born White in the United States, you were born with privilege. This does not make you a bad person. It simply means you were born without certain obstacles that almost every Black person must face, sometimes every day of their lives. When 12-year-old Tamir Rice was murdered by Cleveland police while playing in a park, did you think whether that could ever happen to a White child in Midland? Probably not. That is privilege.
When nine Black people attending a Bible study group at their church were murdered by a young man with a clear hatred of African Americans, did you think whether that would ever happen in your church here in Midland? Probably not. That is privilege.
When Eric Garner died while police strangled him for selling cigarettes, did you consider whether someone at the Midland Farmer’s Market could face the same fate? Unthinkable, right? That is privilege.
When Michael Brown was repeatedly shot with his hands in the air, could you imagine facing the barrel of a police officer’s gun, feeling the first bullets enter your skin and two more crush through your skull as you fell? Michael Brown died for allegedly stealing some cigars. The White murderer of the Charleston 9 was taken calmly into custody and police bought him a hamburger from Burger King when he complained of being hungry. That is privilege.
Possessing privilege is not the problem. Doing nothing about your privilege IS the problem. When they passed the robbed and beaten man on the road to Jericho, the priest and the Levite took advantage of their status privilege to avoid helping. But the Samaritan set aside his privilege to bind the victim’s wounds and take him to safety.
Black people in America need our help. They need White Americans to understand privilege and the impact of privilege on the lives of African Americans. They need us to not pass them by on the road to Jericho. And then they need us to catch up to the priest and the Levite and teach them how people should respond to others’ needs.
All lives matter. But right now, we must focus on the need for Black lives to matter just as much as our own. We begin that journey by learning how our own privilege contributes to inequality and oppression. We will travel that journey this year at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Midland. We encourage others to join us in this quest for understanding and to use the power of love for all persons.

Truth and Meaning: Notoriety or Notorious?

When called to serve the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Midland, I was pleased to be moving to the City of Modern Explorers. I envisioned living someplace known for innovation, forward thinking and progress. People I spoke with talked proudly of Midland’s notoriety as a wonderful place to raise a family, a small city filled with the amenities of a larger metropolitan area.

Lately, however, Midland’s notoriety has become overshadowed. We continue to make national, even international news — but not for new inventions, or for cultural achievements. No, Midland has instead become notorious as a bastion of fundamentalist theocracy, intolerance and bigotry. And the latest addition to this sad list…hypocrisy.

The obsession of homophobic and transphobic public figures in our city is not simply disturbing, but a national embarrassment. And the recent revelation of a local minister decrying homosexuals while engaging in sexual discussions with men on a gay dating website colors the credibility of our community.

Beyond this announcement, the subsequent resignation of the clergy in question, and the unimaginable horror in the future for this family, lies another even more insidious evil that remains unaddressed. How many people have read his words, listened to his speech and felt confused and conflicted, and perhaps filled with self-hatred? How many families has this man “counseled” into dysfunction and broken relationships? How many gay teens have sunk into depression, even attempted suicide because their minister told them that they were sinful?

I feel for his wife and children. I can even find a small measure of sympathy for him. But I reserve most of my concern for the victims of his vitriolic attacks on gay and transgender people. I stand with gays and lesbians, bisexual, transgender, and queer folk and offer my support as they face routine discrimination and public shaming by public officials who lack the will to love their neighbors as themselves.

If you are gay and a minister has told you that you are an abomination, then find another minister. If you are a lesbian and have been shamed by your church as sinful, then seek out a welcoming congregation. If you are transgender and been told that your religion has no room for you, then look for a religion that embraces you. And if you are questioning and hear our representative in Lansing compare you to a pedophile, then join with us.

Midland, we should be sick and tired of being notorious for our intolerance of people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The time has come to enhance our notoriety once more. The time is now to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the class of people protected from discrimination in our city. And from now on, our religious and political leaders should know that hate speech is not free speech, and that ancient scriptures do not replace truths proven by verifiable research.

Truth and Meaning: Our Twilight Zone

I grew up watching The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and the original Star Trek television series. Alternative universe stories fascinated me. Contemplating different realities helps me appreciate the challenges we face in this life, at this time.

So, I invite you to the dimension of imagination, to experience the awe and mystery of a strange new world. Imagine a frontier Mid-Michigan just after the Civil War. Timber drives the local economy, but this resource will soon run low. Along comes a free Negro named Dow who invests everything he has in a dream. And his dream pays off.

Dow builds what will eventually become a major international corporation … in Saginaw. The nearest port, Bay City, thrives. And the village of Midland struggles to make lumber stretch as long as possible.

Former slaves stream to Saginaw by the thousands, building a thriving metropolis. When the Depression hits, Saginaw and Bay City ride the storm. Midland, however, loses many of its struggling businesses, and only the poor remain to hold the pieces together.

Through the 1950s and 1960s, Saginaw blossoms. The city builds riverfront condos, major retailers grow downtown, and a stadium attracts a AAA baseball team. Locally-owned businesses flourish as the average income rises. Saginaw becomes the first American city to adopt full civil rights for all citizens and a guaranteed minimum wage higher than any other in the nation. Property values soar, public schools prosper, unemployment disappears and crime remains low.

Midland, on the other hand, struggles to keep schools going. The mostly white residents rent dilapidated houses and apartments and cannot find full-time jobs that pay more than subsistence wages. Drugs and violence are rampant among the vacant lots, and the mostly black police cannot keep pace with crime. After years of annual deficits and cuts to public services, the state installs an emergency manager, and the elected officials lose their authority. Residents of Saginaw driving to their summer cabins avoid Midland whenever possible. They wonder why the residents of Midland cannot do what it takes to clean up their city and get off the public welfare rolls.

One day, a white boy plays in the pavilion of Plymouth Park with a toy gun. He is alone with little to do because there are no playgrounds, no after school programs, and his family cannot afford clothes and food, let alone game systems, computers or cable television. A fearful neighbor calls 911 and two black police officers arrive on the scene. The younger officer — previously rejected by the better police force in Saginaw — jumps from the car shooting. In seconds, the boy lies dead on the ground.

In the ensuing days, the white residents of Midland explode in anger. They feel the weight of decades of economic injustice, feelings of shame and guilt because their kids lack the opportunities available to those in Saginaw, and outrage at the brutal murder of a child. They take to the streets, rioting against the hopelessness of this unfair system. They march down Main Street past the vacant store fronts and bars. Occasionally, someone throws a rock and one liquor store burns. Across the country, the news shows white Midlanders running and looting, and reports that the boy’s shooting was justified.

Pat Robertson leads a largely-ignored march in Washington, D.C., with the families of the slain boy, and of other white men gunned down by black police officers across the country. But the media call him an opportunist. The lone white commentator on Fox News opines about how welfare keeps the white people unmotivated and poor. A black sports writer in Saginaw pens an editorial calling on all people to simply engage in hard work; commitment and perseverance; effort, energy and sacrifice; respect for others; serving others; helping others. And a black Unitarian Universalist minister in Saginaw responds, calling the sports writer’s piece racist and an example of privilege.

http://www.hulu.com/watch/440892

Is this scenario difficult to imagine? Perhaps. This alternative reality might be especially difficult to imagine if you were born privileged and cannot dream of such patent unfairness. If you were born white, understanding institutionalized racism is challenging. If you were born male, the economic impossibilities facing poor, single mothers are unfathomable. If you were born financially comfortable, you think that anyone who works hard enough can accomplish whatever they want in life. And if you were born straight, you might simply assume that heterosexuality is the norm for all people and disapprove of the gay “lifestyle.”

Open your eyes. Nothing is as simple as the pundits want you to believe. Our problems do not derive from poor people believing they are entitled. Our problems derive from privileged people — people who did nothing to earn their privilege but be born that way — doing everything possible to skew social systems and maintain their own sense of entitlement.

At the end of the episode titled “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” Rod Serling stated: “The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs, and explosions, and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, ideas, prejudices. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy. A thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own for the children and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is, these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.”

In this reality, Black Lives Matter.

Elephants in the Room Interfaith Presentation

I led this presentation at the Mid-Michigan Interfaith Dialogue Symposium in Freeland on April 19, 2015.  The topic was how to make “church” more relevant, especially for Millennials, by rationally addressing difficult moral issues, such as abortion and homosexuality.  My contention is that many religions are declining because of dualistic thinking on these issues when, in fact, the sacred texts are ambiguous at best.

Truth and Meaning: Agenda Alert

We all face challenges in life. Taking classes, working at jobs, paying taxes, and a host of other responsibilities consume our time — time we might prefer to spend with loved ones and good friends. We care about our city, its parks and schools. We care about our neighbors and the well being of all in our community.

You might not want to hear about one more challenge, especially if you feel it does not impact you directly. But as Midlanders, as Michiganders, as Americans, whatever our religious beliefs, we must consider all people because our morals tell us to help the underprivileged and to stand against oppressors.
In recent weeks, you may have heard and read about a number of news stories relating to gay and transgender people in Midland. If you do not know any gay people, or understand the nature of being a transgender person, you might have set these stories aside. Hearing people that you perhaps respect speak out, you may have trusted their judgment based on their authority or committed resolve.
The first realization you should face, however, is that you do know gay people. You might not know who they are — neighbors, co-workers, store owners, or members of your church — but you know them. And the time to attend to these people in your life has arrived.
As concerned citizens, the plight of your gay and transgender friends and neighbors should matter because people with an insidious agenda live among us. These people are obsessed with gay and transgender people, and the perception that their presence constitutes a danger. Sadly, a leader of these fanatics now represents Midland in the Michigan State House of Representatives. Gary Glenn’s long-time compulsive hatred of gay and transgender people resurfaced in recent days via postings on his Facebook pages — pages that purport to represent the interests of his constituents.
Now, like all citizens, Representative Glenn has the right to hold opinions and we, as his constituents, deserve to hear them. At its core, our republic functions in large part because of the transparency of our elected officials and the rights of citizens to engage in conversation with their representatives. Glenn’s recent actions placed the issues of whether gays and transgender people should be protected from discrimination at the forefront of our attention. The problem, however, lies with the fact that when someone posts a comment of concern, or an opinion that dares to disagree with Representative Glenn on his Facebook pages, the comment quickly disappears and the poster is often barred from posting again. Many of his constituents also report no attempt on the part of their elected representative to respond to letters and emails.
This censorship and unresponsiveness to the concerns of his constituents grew in recent weeks. Our state faces major challenges relating to the economy, education, the environment and crumbling infrastructure. Glenn, however, spends much of his valuable time pursuing a personal war against a group only seeking fair treatment. A gay person in Michigan currently has absolutely no protection from being fired by an employer, or evicted by a landlord simply because they were born gay. Whatever your personal opinion about homosexuality, such legalized discrimination is abhorrent.
Gary Glenn has been the long-time president and voice of the Michigan chapter of the American Family Association. The AFA publishes diatribes that incite unwarranted distrust of gay and transgender people using allegations unproven by the vast majority of medical research and unsubstantiated by every major medical association. The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization committed to teaching tolerance among all people, maintains a list of extremist hate groups. The AFA shares a place on that list with notable stains on the American landscape, such as the Aryan Brotherhood, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and the Westboro Baptist Church.
If Gary Glenn, citizen, wishes to peddle his filth about people who have done nothing to harm him, that is his right. But as an elected official, one might reasonably expect more decorum and certainly more validated proof of his insinuations and accusations — claims that are rapidly turning our city into a national joke.
  • His sponsorship of House Bills 4188, 4189, and 4190, which will allow agencies to legally discriminate against qualified and loving gay and lesbian couples seeking to adopt some of Michigan’s thousands of parentless children, is unconscionable.
  • His support of businesses to discriminate against gays and transgender people based on religious beliefs, while at the same time chiding Planet Fitness for its inclusive policy that assumes the inherent worth and dignity of all people, is hypocrisy at it finest. On March 9, he clearly presumed that transgender people are dangerous when he posted that the Planet Fitness policy “threatens the safety of its female customers.”
  • His snide reaction on March 22 to the promotion of Tony Lascari at the Midland Daily News lacked the class we should expect from someone in his position. He posted, “Agenda Alert — Midland Daily News’ new news editor: political science major who ‘lives in Midland with (his) husband.’”
  • His March 24 opposition to the recommendation of the State Civil Rights Commission regarding nondiscrimination protections based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is mean-spirited and un-Christian. He posted “that local gay and gender identity rights laws are a ‘solution in search of a nonexistent problem.’”
  • And the dismissive tone of Glenn’s staff when responding to the Midland Daily News’ inquiry about his censorship of and lack of response to citizen queries (as reported on March 25) was evasive and arrogant.

This endless crusade against gay and transgender people embarrasses us. The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarantees many bold and important rights for the American people. Government must never establish a state religion. Citizens have the right to speak their minds. And we have the right to redress our grievances to our elected officials and be heard. Representative Glenn’s attempts to legalize religion-based discrimination, stifle public comments, and ignore the opinions of his constituents represents not simply poor judgment, but a fundamental attack on the American way of governance.

So please be alert. There are people with an agenda — an agenda aimed at destroying families and undermining our ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These people present a real public menace by threatening innocent gay and transgender adults and children and their families, and by promoting discrimination, bullying, suicide, and homelessness among people who only want to live joyful and productive lives, just like you. This agenda rejects our commitment as moral creatures to love our neighbors and to leave judgment of others to the greater power of the universe. Write to Gary Glenn and tell him that you do not share his homophobic and transphobic agenda. Hold him accountable to communicate with you and not discard your concerns without regard. Tell your representative that you believe his actions against gay and transgender people are neither loving or just, and that his pursuit of this agenda is un-American.

Truth and Meaning: Community Values

In the past week, our state representative in Lansing has raised the issue of Midland’s “community values.” You might wonder if you can go somewhere to read an articulation of exactly what those values might be.

Last year, 100 community leaders were brought together by a partnership of the Midland Area Chamber of Commerce, the City of Midland and Midland Tomorrow to determine how we might best plan for the long-term success of our community. The expressed purpose of this group was “to enhance prosperity in Midland County by gathering key stakeholders to envision our best future through sharing ideas, building productive relationships and aligning economic development efforts.” The process of developing a strategic plan required the group to answer the fundamental question, “What do we know to be true?”
After months of work, a report was issued that can be viewed at the Midland Area Community Foundation website at http://www.midlandfoundation.org/. Among the nine Key Performance Areas was this statement on Diversity. “Midland County is committed to equality and inclusion and welcomes, embraces and accepts all people.”
All people. That includes a commitment to not discriminate against anyone based on their heritage or culture, their physical attributes or their station in society. And in our group discussions, it also specifically included a commitment to welcome, embrace and accept anyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Our state representative has recently expressed concern that people assuming new responsibilities in the community might use their new position “to promote a political agenda or bias that’s at odds with our community’s values. When it comes to holding people in positions of public influence accountable, the more public awareness, the better.” I could not agree more.
Representative Glenn, the leaders of this community have already spoken and have already detailed our community values in writing. The public is becoming more aware of your opposition to equality for certain residents of our community. Your strident unwillingness to welcome, embrace and accept your constituents based on their sexual orientation or gender identity is well-documented in your public pronouncements.
You are using your new position to promote a political agenda and a religious bias that is at odds with our community values. Therefore, the citizens of Midland County must hold you accountable for your attempts to influence the public through your homophobic and transphobic agenda. Whatever votes may have happened 10 years ago, or a century ago, have little relevance. The people of Midland County today — your constituents — are telling you to stop. Stop silencing our voices. Stop acting as if you speak for all of us. And stop ignoring our community values.
I also call on the leaders of our city and county to help Representative Glenn understand our community values by clarifying our commitment to nondiscrimination. The time has come to include sexual orientation and gender identity among the classes of people protected from discrimination in our welcoming community. Embracing and accepting our gay and transgender neighbors means protecting them from losing their jobs or their homes because of who they are or who they love.

Truth and Meaning: Gender Confusion

Recently, our state representative here in Midland, Michigan was quoted in the press as saying that the policy of Planet Fitness regarding transgender individuals threatens the safety of women. He called their policy “anti-woman” and added that it “violates the privacy, comfort and peace of mind of women.”

Perhaps it is really Rep. Gary Glenn who is confused about the notion of gender and what it really means to be “anti-woman.”
Here are some real “anti-woman” policies:

  • Failing to close the ongoing pay equity gap between men and women;
  • Opposing efforts to raise the minimum wage or require that businesses provide paid sick leave, both of which disproportionately affect women;
  • Forcing women to pay additional insurance premiums for medical treatment to which they are legally entitled;
  • Proclaiming the unsuitability of two women to raise children without the presence of a man;
  • Denying loving and committed women the legal rights afforded heterosexual couples;
  • Basing political opinions on the malicious and groundless lie that gay and transgender people are pedophiles and rapists;
  • Opposing efforts to educate children about gender identity and categorizing anti-bullying legislation as an insidious tactic of the dreaded gay agenda;
  • Undermining efforts to provide affordable health care to women and girls living in poverty;
  • Attacking health care agencies providing important services to women, especially in the more remote areas of the state;
  • Fighting against hate crime legislation that would protect straight women of color, lesbians and transgender women from harassment, abuse and violence;
  • Helping men whose wives have taken out Personal Protection Orders against them for domestic violence buy guns;
  • Denying spousal benefits to the partners of unmarried employees;
  • And falsely laying claim to the mythical moral high ground of “traditional family values” that will only serve to deny women basic freedoms and dignity.

Perhaps most ironic in Rep. Glenn’s stance is the utter hypocrisy of his position relative to businesses. On the one hand, he wants to give companies free reign to discriminate against women on the basis of the religious beliefs of the owners. But, on the other hand, he condemns Planet Fitness for its enlightened and compassionate policy respecting the individual’s right to define their own gender identity. Do you support businesses taking moral stands, or not, Rep. Glenn? You cannot have it both ways.

The most dangerous threat to the privacy, comfort and peace of mind of women in Michigan is not gay or transgender people. It is not Planet Fitness and its policies regarding gender identity. The most dangerous and anti-woman threat in Michigan — the person most truly confused about gender — is you.
To support the fight against discrimination in Michigan, please sign and forward our petition calling for protection of our trans* community.