Michigan Senator Mallory McMorrow Speaks Out Against Recent Attacks

Michigan Senator Mallory McMorrow delivered a passionate speech on April 19th addressing the recent political attacks she has faced by opponents of LGBTQ+ rights. In a fundraising email, a fellow Michigan senator claimed that McMorrow is grooming and sexualizing children by defending the LGBTQ+ community. Other comments accused McMorrow of supporting pedophilia and wanting white children to feel responsible for slavery. In response, Senator McMorrow said “I sat on it for awhile wondering why me, and then I realized, because I am the biggest threat to your hollow, hateful scheme. Because you can’t claim that you are targeting marginalized kids in the name of “parental rights” if another parent is standing up to say no.”

“I want every child in this state to feel seen, heard, and supported, not marginalized because they are not straight, white, and Christian.” She concluded, “I know that hate will only win if people like me stand by and let it happen.”

It is so incredibly important for us to engage with the systems in our community and speak out against hateful speech if we want to move towards a better future. If you would like to get involved with what the OutCenter is doing in Southwest Michigan, visit our Tag Me In page to sign up!

The OutCenter Stands for Trans Rights in Michigan’s Courts

 

The OutCenter stands for trans people’s rights — and that includes their right to be referred to by their pronouns in Michigan’s courts.

In December, a Michigan Court of Appeals judge wrote that he objected to other judges referring to a defendant in accordance with their gender pronouns.

The defendant in the case People vs. Gobrick is a trans woman who uses the pronouns “they/them.” The majority of the judges on the case agreed to use those pronouns, but in Judge Boonstra’s response, he wrote, “This court should not be altering its lexicon whenever an individual prefers to be identified in a manner contrary to what society throughout all of human history has understood to be the immutable truth.” Judge Boonstra then refers to a purported quote from President Abraham Lincoln that states:  “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?  Four.  Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

The OutCenter has signed an open letter, along with many other pro-LGBTQ+ organizations like the ACLU of Michigan, Equality Michigan and Stand With Trans, saying that “Judge Boonstra’s opinion reflects both a lack of understanding and intolerance toward transgender people.” It’s one thing for Judge Boonstra to hold an opinion as a private citizen, but when he writes these sort of statements as a sitting judge, it sends a message to trans people that they won’t be treated with the same dignity and fairness as cisgender people in Michigan’s courts.

We believe Judge Boonstra’s response violates the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct: “Without regard to a person’s race, gender, or other protected personal characteristic, a judge should treat every person fairly, with courtesy and respect.”

We urge the judiciary and the bar to take this opportunity to invest in LGBT+ cultural competency training in Michigan. Every Michigander deserves equal treatment by our courts, including those in the LGBTQ+ community.

If you want to help, reach out to the Michigan State Bar and ask them to develop a style guide that clarifies the proper use of pronouns and invest in LGBTQ+ cultural competency training.

Below is the full letter. Read Judge McCormack’s response here:

 

Letter-from-Chief-Justice-McCormack

Read more.

Bottled water in nenton Harbor

Benton Harbor Lead Crisis Info

For up-to-date information about the lead crisis in Benton Harbor’s water, including the latest schedule of bottled water pick-ups, frequently asked questions, and resources for residents who need help, visit Michigan.gov/MILeadSafe.

Volunteers are still needed to help distribute water. Visit Volunteer.uwsm.org/need for more info.

A dashboard updating progress on the replacement of lead drinking  water service lines in the City of Benton Harbor is now available on the city’s website for  public viewing.

To assist with ensuring the work can be completed as soon as possible, residents are  encouraged to complete the Water Service Line Replacement Agreement available  online. Contractors cannot begin work on any property without property owner  authorization. Completed forms can be returned to Abonmarche, 95 West Main Street,  Benton Harbor, MI 49022 or emailed to bvasher@abonmarche.com.

Victories in Class Action Cases Mean Social Security Survivor’s Benefits For Same-Sex Partners

Thanks to victories in two cases, Social Security survivor’s benefits will now be open to everyone, including all who suffer harm from discriminatory marriage laws, regardless of whether they have applied in the past.

The outcomes of Thornton v. Commissioner of Social Security and Ely v. Saul have important and positive implications for any surviving spouses or partners who were previously denied or who never applied for Social Security survivor’s benefits, either because they were not able to legally marry or were not married for long enough before their spouse died.

Thorton was a class action case filed on behalf of surviving partners who were unable to marry their partners in Michigan (prior to the marriage equality decision in June 2015) and therefore unable to apply for social security survivor benefits based on their deceased partner’s earnings.

Ely was filed on behalf of surviving spouses who were married less than the required nine-month period to qualify for survivor benefits, due to the fact that they couldn’t legally marry in their state.

In November 2020, federal district courts decided in their favor, but the federal government (under the Trump administration) appealed. Today Social Security has agreed to dismiss its appeals of these decisions.

What this means in a nutshell, is that if you are surviving spouse (age 60 or older, or age 50 with a disability) and your partner or spouse passed away before you were able to legally marry in Michigan (June 2015), and/or less than nine months after marriage equality was available in (March 2016) you may be eligible for survivor benefits based on your partner/spouse’s earnings.

See FAQs on Thorton and Ely below.

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Why Data Collection is Vital for LGBTQ+ Patients

Data collection doesn’t sound like something that can keep people safe or make them healthier, but for the LGBTQ+ community, that’s exactly what it can do. 

MaryJo Schnell, the OutCenter’s Executive Director, recently joined Mosaic Health & Healing Arts, SAGE Metro Detroit, Michigan Hospital Association’s Keystone Center, Michigan State University and Michigan Public Health Institute (MPHI) for a state-wide webinar presentation to health professionals on LGBTQ+ informed care, and specifically how data collection can improve experiences for LGBTQ+ patients.

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A Message About Host Homes to All Schools in Cass, Van Buren, and Berrien Counties

As we head back to school, the OutCenter recognizes the hardships that LGBTQ+ students and all students living in our service area have faced over the past school year. For example, not all of our LGBTQ+ students are living in a safe home that encourages and supports their most authentic selves. We recognize, respect, and honor the unique position schools have when it comes to the safety of all students, including LGBTQ+ at-risk students. And in support of the work you do we’re providing you information on a recent program the OutCenter has been working on to end LGBTQ+ youth homelessness in our area. 

Continue reading here.

South Haven Mayoral & City Council Election Candidate Questionnaire

With the City of South Haven’s primaries approaching this Tuesday, August 3, 2021, the OutCenter of Southwest Michigan sent out a questionnaire to the 3 candidates running for the South Haven mayorship. Those candidates include Ahmmad Goodwin, Scott Smith, and Tim Stegeman and those running for City Council: Kam Daugherty, Wendi Onuki, Joe Reeser, and George Sleeper. Each candidate was emailed three times and called once regarding completing the questionnaire, or their campaigns were messaged directly on their websites or other social media. 

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Letter to the Chikaming Township Board of Trustees

We at The OutCenter of Southwest Michigan are so grateful to hear of the local efforts to pass non-discrimination ordinances (NDOs) throughout southwest Michigan! Whether an NDO passes or fails, any attempt to create a more equitable, safe, and even brave community is a great step forward for all people. According to MAP, only 31% of LGBTQ+ Michiganders are protected in private employment, housing, and/or public accommodations.

Congratulations to Three Oaks on passing their NDO on July 14th! The town joins Saint Joseph, the seat of Berrien County, and Buchanan in protecting all citizens from discrimination and harassment in their town. 

And while we are grateful for Three Oak’s progress, we are sad to hear about the news from Chikaming Township about not taking up the cause of an NDO, despite the supportive statements from constituents. To those leaders and community members who led this initiative, we thank you for fighting for not only the LGBTQ+ community, but the whole community!

Your work and dedication to protecting your LGBTQ+ neighbors not only helps protect LGBTQ+ people, but creates a greater sense of community, engagement, and safety for people of all ages. Even though we expect the Michigan Supreme Court to decide favorably for the LGBTQ+ community post-hearing the upcoming Rouch World v. Michigan Department of Civil Rights on the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (in October), nothing is more powerful in small towns and rural areas than local conversations – changing hearts and minds and policies.

For those wanting their town to become truly inclusive of LGBTQ+ people and their families, please know you do not have to go through this process of change-making alone. The OutCenter of Southwest Michigan is dedicated to making progress for the LGBTQ+ community throughout Berrien, Van Buren, and Cass counties. We will gladly leverage our many years of experience in political engagement and systems change initiatives to assist you in the process of developing and implementing an inclusive NDO in your town. 

Our mission is to provide support and advocacy for respect, understanding, and non-discrimination to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and allied persons and their families in Southwest Michigan. In 2020, we promoted or helped modify 422 LGBTQ+ inclusive policies & practices across Van Buren, Berrien, and Cass counties and organized 76 partner organizations to provide more robust and appropriate responses to LGBTQ+ inquires. 

If you are interested in making progress in your hometown and joining the more than 40 towns protecting the LGBTQ+ community across Michigan, please do not hesitate to contact us at info@outcenter.org and we will be happy to help! 

OutCenter Statement on Threatening Hate Email

As an organization, we felt it necessary to shine light on something that typically hides in the dark as a “cost of doing business” as an LGBTQ+ community center.

On the heels of the insurrection in our nation’s Capitol (an insurrection enabled and encouraged by white supremacist groups and language), a threatening statement was posted to our website over the weekend, targeting our LGBTQ+ center and greater community.

After reading the content and investigating, we have found out much more about this person and what we have found confirms our worst fears.

So what did we do? We got to work. 

Please know that these steps are also available to you and every citizen receiving threats and/or being bullied.

Our first action, as ever, was to contact our attorney, Beth McCree for her advice.

We then contacted the FBI, as online threats are a federal crime. Our team provided them with all the information needed to investigate via their reporting tool set up to receive tips following the attempted coup at the US Capitol. That tool, for reference, can be found at http://fbi.gov/uscapitol/

We contacted the Office of the Attorney General in Michigan and then, at their direction, the Michigan State Police.

We contacted Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety and were issued a report number.

We contacted the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department.

We contacted the police department where the aggressor lives, notifying the Chief of the threat residing in their area.

Then we reached out to all our peer LGBTQ+ organizations in the State of Michigan, only to find out that we weren’t the only LGBTQ+ Center to have received similar very threatening and ominous messages by this person. We are now sharing information among our organizations to be sure we build an evidentiary file, as well as connect with our broader Michigan family to grow our knowledge and bolster our courage in this new era.

Always remember this: we are not alone and never will be, especially when we band together to make good on our nation’s promise – one denied to too many since our nation’s founding. Instead of flight or fight: stand and fight for our integrity; a need not unique to the LGBT+ community.

We are thankful to law enforcement for their assistance in documenting this threat. However, something that is important to note: this is not illegal until this person were to follow through on the threat, or continue to threaten our organization and community.

Lastly, and most importantly: fear is a sobering emotion. It is a necessary emotion and it is how many of you are feeling. However, what you do with that emotion can make the difference between you engaging in destructive behaviour or helping to set in motion lasting and equitable changes.

We are leaning into this moment. Please join us:

  1. Stay vigilant.
  2. If you see, hear, or read something, say something – immediately.
  3. Reach out to friends and family immediately for support and guidance.
  4. If you feel there is a threat informed by the attempted coup in our nation’s Capitol, reach out to law enforcement in the order outlined above.
  5. Keep copies and screenshots of any and all evidence and reports.
  6. Share with others as we have done here in ways that educate and provide a framework of support for taking positive and powerful actions.
  7. If you are in need of emotional support or need to connect with community, feel free to attend some of the OutCenter programs.
  8. Look up and connect with Spectrum Health Lakeland’s Community Grand Rounds events on Facebook.
  9. Engage with United Way of Southwest Michigan’s 21 Day Equity Challenge
  10. Get involved with Lake Michigan College’s MLK Celebration week.

Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.

James Baldwin

What the OutCenter Means to Me by Linnea Martinez

I was tugging nervously on my sparkly silver dress, standing at the building’s entrance. Loud music reverberated through the brick walls. Through a foggy window, I could make out the shapes of people dancing. Before I could let the nerves get the best of me, the door opened and a coordinator ushered me in. 

There were a total of seven of us teens there. The Prom took place in a room that was no bigger than a small apartment. A live band took up half the dance floor, playing oldies and rock-and-roll versions of pop songs. It didn’t look like a typical High School Prom, and that’s because it wasn’t. 

This Prom was a Pride Prom. Nobody here cared who was dancing with who. Nobody here batted an eye if a girl wore a suit, or if one of my guy friends wore a dress. This small, rectangular room was one of the only safe havens in Southwest Michigans for teens like me to be themselves. 

I’d grown up in a community that wasn’t accepting of those that were different. I remember sitting in on sermons about the sins of same-sex marriage. I remember the way some of my more religious friends would talk about those that liked the same gender. And I remember taking part in those conversations myself, masking my own personality by claiming same-sex relationships were a sin as well. 

At some point in life, my view began to shift. I became a pioneer, advocating for same-sex marriage every moment I’d get. I’d begin by saying “I’m not gay, but…” as I launched into debate after debate arguing the right for two people of the same sex to marry in the United States. Most of my friends at that time knew me as just an outspoken ally. In reality, I identified as bisexual. 

I’d found the OutCenter after a google search for LGBTQIA+ teen groups in my area. I needed a sense of community, I remember thinking. I needed someone to look up to. I needed someone to show me that people like us exist outside the realm of social media, and that there are adults who identify as LGBTQIA+ living normal lives. 

My best friend, who was in the closet with me, and I felt so alone in a community where we weren’t accepted. Most of all, we desperately wanted to meet other teens like us. 

I almost didn’t go to that first meeting. I sat in the car with my best friend, staring at the large windows of the Phoenix Cafe where we were meeting for what felt like forever. In the end, curiosity overpowered my nerves. 

I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that I was in a safe space. That my friend and I didn’t have to hide who we were around the six other teens who attended that day. It helped that the coordinators made conversation easy. I felt safe, welcome, and like I could speak my mind without my identity being challenged at every moment. 

Joining the OutCenter helped me realize that talking about LGTQ+ relationships is normal. Mentioning the word “gay” doesn’t have to be met with an argument or debate. I could say I had a crush on a girl and no one would bat their eye or question my intentions. 

I spent the next fews years of high school attending as many meetings as I could. Sometimes I brought along other friends who were interested. At the time, the OutCenter was the only place I knew of that had an accessible Teen Pride program in the area. I didn’t realize how important that space was until years later, when I traveled to different parts of the country and saw how few safe spaces existed in more rural areas. 

Three years after leaving the OutCenter to head to college, I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Teen Pride program. This time it was for their Pride Prom, which had become an annual event. I was shocked when the event organizers told me that they were expecting “up to 50 people” to attend. 

A small gathering of seven people that started in a tiny apartment in Benton Harbor had become a big event in the community, all in a matter of six years. And in these six years the OutCenter has helped vet candidates for office, helped establish a nondiscrimination ordinance, and is now working with 16 schools, helping them to understand and support LGBTQ+ youth across the area.

And in six years the OutCenter has helped vet candidates for office, helped establish a nondiscrimination ordinance, and is now working with 16 schools, helping them to understand and support LGBTQ+ youth across the area. That says a lot about the power of the OutCenter. 

Please consider donating to the OutCenter at https://outcenterprod.wpengine.com/future/