By Joyce Pines
View from Kalamazoo
The Kalamazoo YWCA’s annual Women of Achievement dinner is generally not an occasion for controversy. It is an opportunity to recognize women, from high school students to senior citizens, for their contributions to the community.
This being an election year, the fact three southwestern Michigan state legislators chose not to sign the proclamation for Sarah Stangl, one of the six women recognized May 17, made news because she worked as the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender student services coordinator at Western Michigan University.
The legislators did sign the proclamations for the other women honored: Lola Clark Atkinson, Audrey Lipsey, Bobbe A. Luce, Alfrelynn J. Roberts and lifetime woman of achievement Kathy B. Beauregard.
It is sad that two of the individuals who refused to sign Stangl’s proclamation were women - state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, a Lawton Republican, and state Rep. Margaret O’Brien, a Portage Republican. The third non-signer, Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, signed an early version of the proclamation, and then refused to sign the final version after he saw that Schuitmaker didn’t sign it and her name had been removed.
All three legislators advocate for service to country. I take issue with how they are performing that service in this case.
You either serve everyone in your district or you don’t. Schuitmaker, O’Brien and Bolger chose not to serve, but to judge one of their constituents.
Proclamations like this cross politicians’ desks all the time and are routine. They usually don’t make the news and these wouldn’t have either, had the politicians just done their jobs and endorsed the work of the community leaders who chose these individuals.
Instead, O’Brien told WKZO: “I do have my own values, so you have to make sure that as you’re signing something that it’s something that’s going to be consistent with what your values are.”
Gov. Rick Snyder’s values must be different from O’Brien’s because he signed the proclamation, or maybe he was just doing his job and not turning a community celebration into an opportunity to hurt an individual.
Actually, I’m not sure what values not signing the proclamation upholds. Even if you have a problem with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, would you disrespect someone who is paid by a state university to help those LGBT students by not signing a proclamation recognizing her work? Does anyone think those students will cease to exist if the university doesn’t have an office to assist them?
My family’s values include leading by example, supporting family members by modeling good behavior, showing compassion for those less fortunate and not judging others.
The annual women of achievement dinner does more than honor six long-time community volunteers and achievers, it also spotlights the next generation of promising female leaders. Our daughter was among 26 young women of achievement who were honored.
Schuitmaker, O’Brien and Bolger disrespected all of those young women by suggesting that it is still OK to judge an individual because of the people that individual chooses to serve. The stand of those legislators also violates the spirit of the gay rights ordinance passed by a large majority of Kalamazoo voters in 2009 which grants protections in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodation to the LGBT community.
A great evening ended on a sad note when YWCA CEO Jennifer Shoub revealed what the legislators had done. It wasn’t the lesson we had hoped our daughter would get from the evening, but it was a powerful reminder that the work of the YWCA in social action and advocacy is far from done.