Political Leader Spewing Hate

This commentary piece is an example of what folks can submit to Mediamouse.org for publication. If you don’t want to write something yourself but have an idea for an article, you can also suggest a story.

Almost a month has gone by since Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern, spewed her hate for all to hear. Many people have heard Kern’s speech, and for those who have not, it is worth hearing:

The open and public demonstration of hate displayed by this political leader is appalling. The fact that over 100 Republican constituents gave this woman applause is even more disgraceful.

I firmly believe in the constitutional right of free speech, however, I also believe that political leaders have a personal and political responsibility to maintain professional ethics, while upholding the safety and security of all US citizens, regardless of one’s sexual orientation.

Sally Kern’s speech did not only completely disregard and overtly discriminate against the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender community, but also belittle the many victims and survivors of cancer and terrorism. Along with giving little disregard or empathy to the families and friends of our military service persons, the families and friends of those victimized by the Oklahoma bombings, the war, and those affected by cancer.

For Sally Kerns to equate cancer and terrorism in the same respects is one matter, but to demonize one’s sexual orientation as the eventual destruction of our nation is quite another matter altogether.

Sally Kern has, in effect, opened a floodgate for potential hate crime and has basically given her permission and support for such actions. Just ask the families of Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena, Danny Overstreet, and many others who have died because they didn’t fit into Kern’s Christian ideal of human existence, how public speech can have an affect.

The only positive that can come of Kern’s speech is that we all know where she stands and we also now know that Oklahoma is not a very friendly place to visit, live, spend our money… because of open and encouraged discrimination.

When our so-called leaders can spew venom from their mouths, and get an applause for doing so, we need to truly start looking at the direction our country is going and who we put in office to lead us there.

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Michigan Ranked 3rd in Hate Crimes

For the third year in a row, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) ranks Michigan third in the United States for the number of hate crimes. Michigan reported 653 hate crimes in 2006, placing it behind California (1,297) and New Jersey (759). While part of Michigan’s ranking may be due to the fact that it does a better job reporting hate crimes than many other states, an official with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights quoted in the State News said that the number is related to a rise in neo-Nazi/Ku Klux Klan groups in Michigan combined with longstanding patterns of segregation. Seventy-five percent of the hate crimes reported in Michigan were racial in nature. In Grand Rapids, thirty-five hate crimes were reported, twenty-six of which were racial in nature (four were based on sexual orientation).

The FBI defines a hate crime as:

“…a criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin.”

Michigan Supreme Court to Hear Domestic Partnership Benefits Appeal

Last week, the Michigan Supreme Court announced that it will hear arguments in a domestic partnership benefits case . The Supreme Court will hear new arguments from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of 21 gay couples. In February, the Supreme Court issued a ruling stating that Michigan’s 2004 Proposal 2 ban on same-sex marriage also outlawed domestic partner benefits for the same-sex partners of public employees. The February ruling took effect immediately, although many institutions have continued to offer benefits as they wait for the case be decided conclusively. The Supreme Court declined last week to issue a stay in the case.

Advocates of domestic partner benefits have argued that the state has no legal right to outlaw domestic partner benefits at universities and educational institutions. Additionally, advocates have argued that the courts’ interpretation of Proposal 2 has gone beyond its intent, pointing out that Proposal 2’s supporters said that it would not ban domestic partner benefits.

No date has been set for the case to be argued before the Supreme Court.

MSU Group Declared a “Hate Group”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has announced that it will add the Michigan State University chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) to its list of “hate groups” in Michigan. The list, which includes racist groups such as the National Socialist Movement, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Council of Conservative Citizens, will include the MSU-based Young Americans for Freedom because of their “white supremacist” actions according to the Lansing State Journal when it is updated in April. In the Lansing State Journal, Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center states that it was the Young Americans for Freedom’s proposals to defund minority student organizations and to create a white student council that got the group added to the list. Beirich is quoted stating that YAF fits the characterization of a “hate group” because it has “…an ideology that denigrates an entire class of people for their inherent traits.”

The MSU chapter of Young Americans for Freedom has a history of organizing a variety of protests against “liberals,” Democratic Party politicians, radicals, and against abortion. Last year, they gained national attention for staging a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” day on MSU’s campus as well as for bringing the anti-immigrant politician Tom Tancredo to MSU’s campus. In addition, the group has made a variety of anti-gay statements and protestied Lansing’s human rights ordinance while holding signs that read “Straight Power” and “End Faggotry” according to the Lansing State Journal. In an interview, the group’s leader Kyle Bristow asserts “the average life-span of a homosexual male is 45 years old” and that “homosexuality kills people almost to a degree worse than cigarettes.” Similar extremist rhetoric has been used when the group has opposed abortion, with Bristow arguing that abortion increases the chance of women getting breast cancer.

Young Americans for Freedom was formed in 1960 and was most active in the 1960s, both countering radical protests and in supporting presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964. However, in the decades since the 1960s, the organization has retained a presence on many college campuses and has advocated a form of conservativism further to the right of the Republican Party while its influence has declined. Chapters around the country have advocated for strict laws targeting undocumented immigration, campaigned against affirmative action, protested leftwing speakers, and campaigned against equal rights laws protecting LGBT people. The organization has worked with the Leadership Institute and the Young America’s Foundation in recent years to build up chapters around the country.

Study: Statewide Bias against Gays and Lesbians in Housing

A study by the Fair Housing Centers of Michigan has found widespread bias against the LGBT community in housing. The study, conducted by Fair Housing Centers in the Detroit, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, and Grand Rapids area between May and August 2006, used actors to pose as gay and mixed gender pairs who then inquired about rental housing and homes for sale, as well as financing options at apartment complexes, real estate firms, and mortgage lenders. Of the 120 tests conducted in 39 cities and suburban areas, there was discrimination based on sexual orientation in 27% of the cases.

In Michigan, it is not illegal to refuse to sell or rent a home or apartment to gays and lesbians. Michigan’s anti-discrimination law, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, bars bias based on religion, race, and national origin, but does not include protections for the LGBT community. Around the state, municipalities have passed human rights ordinances to protect the LGBT community, but when it comes to housing discrimination, the ordinances have not made a significant impact according to the study. The study found that even in communities with human rights ordinances, discrimination still occurs 22% of the time. This is perhaps due to the fact that of the fourteen ordinances passed in the state, only Ann Arbor and Saginaw allow individuals to take legal actions against those discriminating against them. The Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) used the release of the report to call on lawmakers to add sexual orientation to the categories protected by the state’s civil rights act. Seventeen states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Grand Rapids Attack a Hate Crime

The Grand Rapids Press reported today that the Michigan Civil Rights Commission has condemned the weekend attack on 34-year old Hai Vo as a hate crime. According to media reports, Vo—who was standing across the street while waiting for his sister to pick him was attacked outside of The BOB nightclub in downtown Grand Rapids after a fight broke out between two groups after someone in one white group made a comment that “Asian women could be sold for $5. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission stated that it “condemns all acts of hate” and called on the Grand Rapids community to “speak out against hatred and intolerance and defend the cause of racial diversity” while it completes an investigation into the incident.

Unfortunately, hate crimes continue to be committed in the Grand Rapids area and reflect the role that pervasive racism, heterosexism, and patriarchal thinking have in shaping how people in this city relate to each other. Persistent reports of hate crimes have come from Grand Valley State University where there were 17 hate crimes—including racist graffiti and a homosexual couple being spat on—reported between July 2005 to April of 2006 while there were a total of 54 hate crimes reported in Grand Rapids in 2005. Reporting in the local media failed to put Sunday’s incident into its proper context, leaving out not only the prevalence of such crimes in West Michigan, but also the fact that hate crimes towards Asian Americans and the GBLT community are growing according to the FBI, and that there has been an increase in organized racist groups in West Michigan. Moreover, the media’s coverage failed to examine institutional racism and the ways in which the very structures of this society—from the prison system to the educational system—neglect or oppress people of color, creating a context in which racist thinking continues to be the norm.

Exploring the Far Right in West Michigan: A New Media Mouse Project

Media Mouse has launched a new database examining the far right in West Michigan. The database looks at the racist, economic, and religious right and focuses on the activities of organizations in these areas, the individuals involved, and the foundations that fund them. As such, we examine everyone from the Dick and Richard DeVos to Elsa Prince and other prominent Grand Rapids and West Michigan members of the far right.

Today Media Mouse is launching a new database—“The Far Right in West Michigan”—that examines the West Michigan “far right” and their involvement at the local, state, and national level. The database tracks organizations, individuals, and foundations ranging from explicitly white supremacist groups to anti-gay religious right groups funded by wealthy families such as the DeVos and Prince families. Our broad definition of the far right—encompassing anti-gay groups, anti-immigration organizations, anti-tax organizations, anti-choice organizations, advocates of religious involvement in government that borders on theocracy, and the individuals and foundations working with and funding these organizations—is designed with three primary goals; to educate people about the activity of the far right in West Michigan; to encourage further research; and to inspire people to take action to confront the far right.

The impetus behind this project was the noticeable increase in activity coming from the far right in Grand Rapids, Michigan over the past year or so, particularly with regard to groups involved in the racist right. These groups, from the Nazi National Socialist Movement (NSM) to the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC) have promoted anti-immigrant views in response to the organizing that swept across the country in support of immigrants rights. They have attempted to channel legitimate economic concerns over lost jobs into the scapegoating of immigrants, and as the underlying agendas of the NSM and CofCC indicate, towards what is ultimately a racist or white supremacist view that opposes not just undocumented immigrants, but all immigration. While the extreme views of the NSM may be somewhat new, they fit within a context of activity by racist groups in West Michigan including the National Alliance, White Voices of America, and the Ku Klux Klan, all of whom have been active over the past few years in West Michigan. Moreover, with respect to anti-immigration organizing, Michigan is home to one of the initial founders and organizers of the anti-immigration—John Tanton—who has funded anti-immigration groups ranging from the benign sounding Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and US English to the more extreme Social Contract Press. Such groups often have ties to the racist right, with FAIR accepting money from the Pioneer Fund who funded efforts to scientifically “prove” biologically differences between races or the Social Contract Press who distributes racist anti-immigration literature. The Tanton-founded US English—which has worked to pass “English as official language” laws—has sought to disassociate itself from the racist right and avoids language such as “English-only” although for all practical purposes its activities say the same thing to immigrants “you are not welcome here,” and the difference may be more in terms of tactics—much like the difference between the Ku Klux Klan and the Council of Conservative Citizens—than in ideology.

While overtly racist and fascist organizations will likely remain marginal for some time, the far right in West Michigan has considerable power through the right-wing and fundamentalist Christian beliefs of some of the Grand Rapids area’s wealthiest families. Amway co-founders Richard DeVos and Jay Van Andel (Van Andel died in 2004) have extensively funded the religious right through the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation and the Jay and Betty Van Andel Foundation, respectively. The two have given to a variety of far right organizations ranging from rightist economic organizations such as the Michigan-based Acton Institute and the Mackinac Center for Economic Policy to groups on the religious right including those seeking to scientifically prove Creationism, working to restrict access to abortion, and attacking gays. In the case of the DeVos family, the funding of the right has continued with all of the DeVos children operating foundations that give at least part of their money to the religious or economic right. Of course, the DeVos and Van Andel families are not the only ones, the Prince family of Holland—and specifically the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation—has given the religious right millions of dollars and have been joined by the DeWitt family and Kalamazoo’s Miller family. This funding has not been limited to the local level and the DeVoses and Princes in particular are known for their support of the religious right on the national level. Richard DeVos, Dick DeVos, Elsa Prince, and Peter Cook are all members of the secretive Council for National Policy, an organization bringing together prominent radical right activists, politicians, and funders for the purpose of coordinating strategy.

Of course, with Richard DeVos’ son Dick DeVos running for governor, both his family’s and his own connections to the religious right should be news, but at this point, there has been little attention on this subject. Especially locally, the news media, when it talks about how the DeVos family uses its wealth for political ends, focuses on campaign contributions rather than looking at the organizations funded by the family. While the DeVos family has given millions of dollars towards electoral campaigns, it also generously supports the rightist infrastructure that exists outside of the realm of electoral politics. This network, consisting of foundations, think-tanks, activist organizations, and public policy groups has been able to shape the discourse around a range of state and national issues including abortion, gay rights, welfare reform, and public education. The left—to whatever extent one can say there is a functioning left in the United States—(and even the well-known liberal organizations and institutions) have been unable to develop such an extensive network, and the absence of such coordinated national efforts may explain the success of the right in recent years. Dick DeVos and his wife Betsy DeVos have funded this network through their Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation, especially those involved in the movement to privatize public education. This does present a dilemma for Democrats and progressives, because even if DeVos is defeated in November the influence of the right of which he is a part will continue unabated.

Lastly, when examining the “philanthropy” of the various far right foundations in West Michigan, we have included all of the grants awarded for a particular year. This of course means that a number of grants to civic institutions—theatres, museums, and symphonies—are included in the database despite the fact that they have no clear relationship to the right. However, we feel that seeing the total of all contributions is instructive and allows for the examination of how much of their money goes towards civic institutions compared with far right causes. It also raises questions with regard to what degree the media and the West Michigan community focus on the civic contributions, rather than the funding of the far right. So, for example, we collectively remember Jay Van Andel most for the buildings that bear his name in downtown Grand Rapids rather than his funding of the Creation Research Society, a “Young Earth” organization that believes that God created the Earth within the past 10,000 years and spends his money trying to scientifically prove this fact. Moreover, seeing the total grants awarded by the foundations raises questions about when institutions and organizations should be accepting funding from these foundations, as they may be simultaneously giving to highly objectionable causes.

In the coming weeks and months, Media Mouse will be expanding the database as it is an ongoing work in progress. We would like to encourage people to contact us with information that we should include. We are looking for everything from your favorite Betsy DeVos quote (our favorites are her comments from the 2004 election indicating that Michigan workers are paid too much) to information on some of the obscure religious right organizations being funded by area foundations (please, include verifiable citations). For our part, we will be doing a series of articles in the next few weeks exploring the “philanthropy” of area foundations and how it has much more to do with promoting a specific set of ideologies than with benevolence.

Michigan Senator Stabenow Votes in Favor of Flag Burning Amendment

On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan voted in favor of a constitutional amendment banning flag burning, joining 14 Democrats who voted in support of the amendment. The flag burning amendment was one of two recent proposals, the other being a proposal to ban gay marriage, that Republicans sought to use to gain the support of wavering conservatives.

On Tuesday, the United States Senate voted down a constitutional amendment that would have banned the desecration of the United States flag. The amendment—long sought by conservatives and seen by some as a way for the Bush administration to regain favor with its conservative base—nearly passed, falling one vote short of being sent to the states for ratification. Had the amendment been sent to the states for ratification, it would have needed to be ratified by three-quarters of the states. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who has lobbied heavily against the amendment, described Tuesday’s vote as “a victory for the First Amendment and all Americans who cherish the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.”

The flag burning amendment, introduced by conservative Senator Orrin Hatch, simply stated, “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.” Republicans sought the passage of the amendment as a repudiation of Supreme Court rulings in 1989 and 1990 that determined that burning the flag and other desecrations were protected as free speech by the first amendment of the United States’ constitution. Senator Hatch explained his support of the amendment not only as a means of protecting “a unique symbol of our nationhood” but as a means of reigning in “activist judges” that are issuing rulings contrary to the desires of the citizens of the United States. Hatch further explained that the groups opposing the amendment were “radical special interest groups” who were working along with the media and the judges to prevent “the people” from having a flag burning amendment. Other Senators such as Bill Frist focused on the relationship between the proposed amendment and patriotism, explaining that those who have died “defending that flag” are deserving of the amendment as “a small humble act for us to defend it.” Despite the fact that the amendment was seen as an attempt to gain the support of conservatives, it attracted the votes of fourteen Democrats. In the final 66 to 34 vote, Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow voted in favor of the amendment, reflecting her support of such an amendment during her two terms in the House of Representatives. Michigan Senator Carl Levin voted against the amendment.

Earlier this month, another measure long sought by conservatives and President Bush, a national ban on gay marriage, failed to move to a vote after Senators voted to close debate without a vote. The gay marriage ban failed to garner the support of either Michigan Senator’s Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow. The amendment read, “Marriage in the United States shall consist of only the union of a man and a woman” and went on to state the constitution of no state will be allowed to define marriage as anything other than “the union of a man and a woman.” Senator Levin explained his opposition to the amendment by stating that “The Constitution has been amended in the past to broaden and affirm the rights of Americans and never to narrow the rights of a group of Americans” while Senator Stabenow expressed her personal belief that “marriage is a religious covenant between a man and a woman” and that “the legal aspects of marriage” should continue to be governed by the states. Despite the lack of support by Michigan’s Senators, Michigan banned gay marriage by a ballot initiative in the 2004 election. In a 2004 vote, Grand Rapids area Congressional representative Vern Ehlers voted in favor of a similar amendment. The House is expected to take up a gay marriage ban this summer, in what Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese described as “election year posturing” to take up an amendment voted down twice by the Senate.

Hey Faggot!!

Reprinted from Chumps on Parade (November 1997)

I don’t know how many times I have walked down the halls and heard students saying something negative about homosexuals. Maybe I am missing something, but when did it become all right to insult someone based on their sexuality? It’s as bad as insulting people based on race or gender, which is considered socially unacceptable, yet the same people who complain about that do nothing about the problems with people who use homosexuality as an insult.

A perfect example of this is when a student asks another student, “What do you think of my new backpack?” To which the student ever so eloquently replies, “It’s gay.” Using a phrase such as “It’s black” to express your dislike of the backpack would have you labeled a bigot right away. Yet you can call it gay and nobody has a problem with it. Something is wrong with that situation. Just today I over heard some kid tell his friend, “My mom is gay, she made me pay for my own Tommy socks.” Using phrases like that makes you sound like an idiot, is it really that much harder to say, “my mom is dumb”?

A couple of days ago as I sat in the cafeteria I heard some kids arguing rather loudly about how one of the people in their social clique was “gay” because he wouldn’t share his pizza with them. While their word choice bothered me, I decided to mind my own business and stay out of their conversation. After carrying on their conversation for another minute, one of the students decided to come over to me and asked, “Doesn’t that kid look gay?”, pointing to his friend. So I decided to respond with, “Are you homophobic?” Once again he showed off his intelligence by replying, “Fuck you! Maybe you are his boyfriend.” While it is impossible to judge the school based on one student’s actions, I still couldn’t help but think to myself, “So this is tolerant City High?”

It amazes me how the students at City can be that intolerant, despite the fact that City is supposed to be a school for the gifted. Gifted people shouldn’t see homosexuality as such an evil that it’s only purpose is to provide a way to insult another student. When I applied to City I heard all about how tolerant the student body is, how it doesn’t have the discrimination problems based on race or sexuality that other schools do. How can anyone say this when people continue to talk about homosexuality this way? Do they even think about the fact that there are homosexual students at City? How do you think they feel when they hear people talk like this?

The students of City High should take it upon themselves to stop using homosexuality as a basis to insult people or show your disapproval of something. It doesn’t take that much effort to stop doing this or to tell your friends that it bothers you when they do it. The problem can be fixed easily and will go a long ways towards making City the tolerant school that everyone thinks it is.