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MIRS — Senators: AFA-Michigan Not Bullying on Bills

April 1, 2008

The State Capitol
Lansing, Michigan
April 1, 2008

Senators: AFA-Michigan not bullying on bills

The American Family Association of Michigan (AFAM) is crowing that two GOP senators have yanked their sponsorship of anti-bullying legislation, issuing joint press releases with Sens. Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) and Valde Garcia (R-Howell).

HB 4162 and HB 4091 passed the lower chamber last year and have been sitting in the Senate Education Committee ever since, but a Capitol rally last week brought the bills back to the forefront. There’s also SB 107 sponsored by Sen. Glenn Anderson (D-Westland), but proponents say they’re focused on the House bills.

AFAM blasted a lobby day event put on by the Safe Schools Coalition on Wednesday pushing “Matt’s Safe School Law,” named after Matt Epling, an East Lansing eighth-grader who took his own life in 2002 after severe hazing incidents.

School districts would have six months to adopt an anti-bullying policy or face potential future action by the Legislature (“Bullying Bills Primed For Movement,” 3/13/07).

AFAM President Gary Glenn blasts the legislation as promoting the “homosexual agenda” by including gender identity and homosexuality as personal characteristics a person could not be bullied for. But Sean Kosofsky, policy director for the gay rights group the Triangle Foundation, said the House bills don’t have a list of protected groups.

In an e-mailed release Wednesday morning, Glenn accused the Triangle Foundation of instituting a dress code for the lobby day, which attracted more than 100 people, including Michigan State Police Director Peter Munoz.

Glenn unleashed a response that raised the ire of the Triangle Foundation: “In the sad reality of enabling emotional trauma and delusion that comprises their stock in trade,” Glenn said, “it is not a joking matter to wonder if the Triangle Foundation’s wardrobe instructions will further traumatize or inhibit the emotionally disturbed men who claim they’re really women, who had every serious intent of wearing a dress to the state Capitol and using the women’s restrooms while they’re there. Is the Triangle Foundation asking ‘lobbying day’ participants to go back into the closet for mere political expedience?”

Kosofsky retorted: “There’s no dress code for our lobby day. We’ve had people with Mohawks and people in jeans and T-shirts. It’s come as you are. …This is the politics of distraction. That’s why they bring up cross-dressing and women’s restrooms. … The AFAM isn’t a pro-family organization. They’re a hate group.”

AFAM issued a press release announcing Garcia had dropped his support for SB 0107 four hours later on Wednesday. A similar release with Richardville followed on Friday. But the senators stress AFAM didn’t bully them into retracting their support.

“The AFAM had concerns, but they didn’t pressure me to change my mind,” Garcia said. “They’re just now getting involved…I always had concerns.”

“That’s not the reason I do things,” Richardville told MIRS. Anderson concurred that he didn’t believe his colleagues had caved to AFAM, saying he held them both in “high regard.”

Garcia said he became more aware of problems with the bill after he signed on last year. Furthermore, he points out neither have technically withdrawn their names because that can’t happen until legislation comes before the Senate. Anderson said Garcia had told him of his decision. He stressed they’re “still in the process of working out differences.”

Kosofsky said it’s moot. The focus is on getting the House bills passed, which have more updated language than Anderson’s bill. He described Garcia’s and Richardville’s actions as “disheartening,” but felt confident they’d sign on to the final legislation.

“Gary Glenn is manufacturing dissent where there’s not any,” he said.

Garcia and Richardville said they were concerned about bullying as a problem, but did not want to protect specific classes of people based on sex, race, sexual orientation, etc. It’s the same argument used against hate crime legislation — a crime’s a crime, so it’s no different to attack someone even if race, for instance, is a motivating factor.

Richardville notes sexual orientation is included, but factors like “physical size, what part of the city kids live in and what their clothes look like” are not. He would like to see a more general anti-bullying bill. “Everyone should be protected,” Richardville said, “not just certain classes.”

Garcia agrees that “inadvertently, you leave something out, someone out.”
Glenn calls the legislation a “Trojan horse.”

“(It) would have no real effect on bullying but is being backed by homosexual activist groups who hope to use legitimate public concern about student safety as a ruse to establish — for the first time ever, anywhere in Michigan law — special ‘protected class’ status based on homosexual behavior and cross-dressing,” Glenn claims.

Richardville said he’s not interested in championing anyone’s “agenda.”

Anderson said he’s received several e-mails from people “who don’t believe some people should be protected. I believe all children should. (Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) students should not be in fear.”

He also said AFAM is using the bill as a fundraiser and to motivate its base. He said it’s “fanning bigotry across the state, anxiety across the state.”

“Unfortunately, we’re talking about school kids here,” Anderson said. “It’s difficult to express how I feel about someone using that to raise money when not all children are afforded a safe environment to learn.”

Richardville said he doesn’t doubt that gay students — and those perceived as gay — face bullying at school.

“I don’t espouse that lifestyle, but there are students figuring those things out. I just don’t think we should spell things out (in legislation),” Richardville said. “That’s not my agenda item.”

He condemns “radical” groups that use hate speech, like the Kansas Westboro Baptist Church’s “God hates fags” campaign. Richardville said he views issues through a Christian lens in which you “love the sinner, but hate the sin.”

Richardville said after talking with Education Chair Wayne Kuipers (R-Holland), he believes taking out the specific groups will make it easier to pass the bill. Anderson said he’s willing to compromise and remains optimistic.

“If you try to get everything, you won’t get everything,” Richardville said.

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