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Reflections on Pride in a Time of Doubt
by Steven Meyer
I am haunted by this scene in Monroe just prior to the 2020 election in which a group of adult men rallied by the name, “Proud Boys” beside the Custer Statue. Only a few actual young people showed up to confront them with rainbow pride flags and Black Lives Matter signs. The police were called in after one of the Proud Boys shouted a dehumanizing slur to the face of a young girl, and lunged at another woman to slap the phone out of her hand as she live-streamed video online (1).
This May, four leaders of The Proud Boys were criminally convicted for seditious conspiracy (2). Such legal consequences have not stopped the Proud Boys from continuing to poison our politics, nor from being invited by elected officials to County Commission meetings in Michigan to lobby for resolutions for “gun sanctuaries” (3), and barging into public libraries to disrupt and intimidate readers, and calling to ban books that explore LGBTQ+ topics (4).
Most disturbingly, is how often the demands of the Proud Boys are affirmed legislatively by Monroe’s elected officials at every level: Monroe’s US Congressman, Tim Walberg voted to decertify the electors on January 6 (5); Monroe’s County Commissioners enacted a resolution to make Monroe a, “gun sanctuary” (6); State Representative, Jamie Thompson publicly campaigned to ban books that explore LGBTQ+ topics (7).
When Monroe’s City Council was asked to condemn the Proud Boys for their violent Custer rally, the only member to address it in any specific or meaningful way was Kellie Vining, “they come to places they feel comfortable. For whatever reason, they felt comfortable being in the heart of our city... I don’t know if they expected the pushback, but I’m glad that they received it.” (1)
June is Pride Month. The rainbow flag is inclusive and celebrates, “Consciousness of One’s Own Dignity”, which can get lost in a place like Monroe under our currently elected leaders. If we would rather the Proud Boys not, “feel comfortable” holding more rallies to shout slurs at local children, then it will be necessary for a lot more than those few young people to show up, “pushback”, and color, “the heart of our city” in rainbows. Allies will be needed to campaign and vote for candidates who respect the dignity of all, with any amount of the courage of the young people from that day
1: October 28, 2020 – Monroe News Article, “Council addresses recent Proud Boys rally”: https://www.monroenews.com/story/news/2020/10/28/council-addresses-recent-proud-boys-rally/114515620/
2: May 4, 2023 – US Justice Department Press Release on Jury Conviction of Proud Boys on Seditious Conspiracy: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/jury-convicts-four-leaders-proud-boys-seditious-conspiracy-related-us-capitol-breach
3: January 22, 2021 – CNN article, “Michigan county commissioner pulls gun out during virtual meeting when resident asked board to denounce Proud Boys”: https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/22/us/michigan-county-commissioner-gun-proud-boys/index.html
5: January 4, 2021 – Press Release from Tim Walberg, “Walberg, Bergman to Object to Certain Presidential Electors on January 6th”: https://walberg.house.gov/media/press-releases/walberg-bergman-object-certain-presidential-electors-january-6th
6: February 20, 2020 – Monroe News Article, “Monroe County passes 2nd Amendment resolution”: https://www.monroenews.com/story/news/local/bedford/2020/02/20/monroe-county-passes-2nd-amendment/1673037007/
7: October 18, 2022 – Social Media Post by Representative Jamie Thomposon (Monroe, HD-28) supporting bans on book featuring LGBTQ subject matter, “I stand for Parentral Rights. Hands off our kids! #BookBan #stopsexualizingourkids #keepthefaith #keepkidsinnocent”: https://www.facebook.com/jamiethompson28/posts/pfbid0KkEeytBPqpbuuHafXWecSno5mSZKyvD5dMYdkoopUiG1jpH3EMX2T5FA8qztrQUul
Juneteenth: What Black Freedom Looks like in Monroe County
by Katybeth Davis
With the announcement of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was enacted. But despite being celebrated by African Americans since the 1800s, it wasn’t until 2021, in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, that nationwide protests brought these celebrations to the forefront of mainstream media. Nationwide protests prompted President Biden to sign legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday at last. This saw an increase of Juneteenth activities across the nation and even right here in Monroe, Michigan.
On May 17th, 2023, the Michigan Senate voted on a bill sponsored by Senator Sylvia Santana to add Juneteenth to the list of official state holidays. That bill will now go onto the Michigan House to be voted on. On May 15th, 2023, the Monroe City Council voted unanimously to make Juneteenth an official city holiday. Mayor Robert Clark was quoted saying that “It should be shared by all members of our community for the significance it made in our country for freedoms and rights of all.” What does freedom actually look like for black people in the community of Monroe, Michigan?
Being black and free in Monroe means that you might never see a black police officer, a black firefighter, a black lawyer, a black judge, or a black prosecutor. It means that you have a higher chance of getting arrested and an even higher chance of not getting a fair trial. It means that when you get arrested someone might break your arm (1) or tell you that because an officer lived in Detroit that he is “blacker” than you. (2) It means that when you have to go to court you will have to walk past the statue of a man that was a slave owner.
Being black and free in Monroe means that if you need access to mental healthcare, chances are you are going to have to leave the county to get the help you need, and it could take months before you are ever seen. A few local agencies have records of racial disparities, and a black woman who is advocating for help for her community is consistently silenced and seen as a threat. (3) Being black and free in Monroe is having a bridge named after American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr, and then seeing that bridge fall into disrepair having not been maintained for over 40 years. Despite the bridge being full of rust and broken lights, the adjacent statue of George Custer is routinely polished and washed as part of the city's maintenance plan. (4)
Being black and free in Monroe means that you might be at the State Park with your friends listening to music when a white man who does not like your music, will hurl racial slurs at you, break your teeth with a bike lock, and be charged with a hate crime. (5) Being black and free in Monroe means that Oprah Winfrey might have to get involved at your highschool to do a Challenge day because racial tensions are so high that it is interfering with your education and quality of life.(6)
Being black and free in Monroe is not easy. It weighs on us mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. The reason why we are so strong is because of the enormous weight of past and present oppression that we are forced to carry. AND STILL WE RISE everyday with our heads held high because we know that one day “the dream” will come true. We celebrate those who fought and endured the struggles of slavery because we are often reminded that there is a possibility it could all be a reality again.
Please join us for the 3rd Annual Juneteenth Family Reunion Celebration at Montague Park (624 Almyra, Ave, Monroe, MI, 48161) on June 19th, 2023, 2pm-9pm. We will have vendors, live performances, a talent show, music, dancing, and so much more!
All Boys Aren't Blue
by Cole Beehn
According to an NBC News article from April, “Of the 13 books that made the American Library Association’s list of ‘Most Challenged Books’ last year, seven titles — including three of the top four — were challenged for having LGBTQ content.” (1) A daunting figure for a community that is well-versed with the struggle for acceptance and basic human rights.
In the lead up to June, I wanted to take up one of the books facing bans in classrooms and libraries across the country. I chose All Boys Aren’t Boy by George M. Johnson, the second most challenged book of 2022 since I recalled a particularly explicit section of the book being read aloud at a Milan school board meeting a few months back. All Boys Aren’t Boy is the memoir of a Black nonbinary queer American who, like me, was born in 1985 and grew up in the 90’s and early 2000’s. It is a story full of both trauma and joy. The vast majority of the book highlights George’s deep love and affection for his family, and theirs in turn for them. Many of the chapters of the book are letters to the various people in George’s life and how they shaped who they would become: brother, cousin, Dad, Mom, and Nanny.
In addition to learning how to navigate the world like any other adolescent, George also learned to code switch, not only as a Black American in predominantly white spaces, but also as a queer person in a largely heterosexual and cisgender society. Although they had the support of their family, George did not feel safe admitting that they were queer or that they had questions about their gender. They didn’t have the vocabulary or knowledge to describe what they were experiencing, so they spent a long time in trial and error figuring out who they really were.
“You don’t know what you like or who you are if you allow yourself to be fit into a box that society has made for you. Learn what you like and don’t like. Create the sexual environment that works best for you. Sex is a part of growth for a human regardless of gender and sexual identity. No one has the right to deny us the resources we need to properly engage with one another. I wish I had known then what you know now,” George writes. This is the reason they wrote the book: to share their experience with adolescents who may be searching for their own place in the world.
It is a shame that people use the most vulnerable parts of this memoir to further their far-right agenda instead of reading the book as a whole. Book banning is a threat to our democracy and a dangerous call for queer people to be erased from our society. George imparts, “There is truly something to be said about the fact that you sometimes can’t see yourself if you can’t see other people like you existing, thriving, working.” Read these banned books and make your own conclusions.
Bullying is Devastating
by Dr. Denise Brooks
Bullying is devastating our children. It is hurting, traumatizing, and sometimes even killing our kids. “The consensus among physicians, social scientists, and educators alike is that bullying can seriously impair the physical and psychological health of victims and their educational achievement. The short- and long-term psychological impact alone can be highly destructive, sometimes increasing the risk of suicide. Bullying needs to be treated as the serious problem it is, not as a normal rite of passage to be left alone and endured.” (1) “All states have anti-bullying legislation. When bullying is also harassment and happens in the school context, schools have a legal obligation to respond to it according to federal laws.” (2)
“The Michigan Senate is poised to take a vote on legislation intended to curb school bullying and harassment. Just last week, it was reported that lawmakers laughingly refused to even consider anti-bullying protections. Elected officials, students, and advocates remained in the Capitol all night to protest this outrageous behavior. The fact that an anti-bullying bill (SB 137) is being considered at all would be reason to celebrate, especially during National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month. But only if the bill in question were actually worth supporting. SB 45, in its current form, lacks important reporting requirements and fails to provide clear, unambiguous protections to student populations most often targeted for bullying and harassment. The Michigan Senate is poised to take a vote on legislation intended to curb school bullying and harassment. It was reported that lawmakers laughingly refused to even consider anti-bullying protections. Elected officials, students, and advocates remained in the Capitol all night to protest this outrageous behavior. The fact that an anti-bullying bill (SB 137) is being considered at all would be reason to celebrate, especially during National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month. But only if the bill in question were actually worth supporting. It is time for Michigan legislators to get serious and pass a bill that would actually address bullying issues. Our state is in need of legislation that will protect students from harassment and discrimination.” (3)
Before December 2011, the State of Michigan was one of three states that did not have an anti-bullying law in place. Under the Matt Epling Safe School Law, every school is required to adopt anti-bullying policies. These policies should outline procedures for students and staff to report incidents of bullying to administration, investigate the incidents, and notify the parents of all parties involved. Who was Matt? “In the summer of 2002, 14-year-old Matt Epling lost the fight against bullying. Matt took his own life 40 days after being assaulted by local high school students in a "Welcome to High School" hazing on the day of his eighth-grade graduation.” (4) Recently, Monroe had a student die by suicide. More must be done because bullying is not stopping, and it is not acceptable. Monroe and Michigan should be more proactive in addressing bullying.
Access to Justice
by Shawna Farley
Michigan law states a child survivor of sexual assault has until they are 28 years old to report the perpetrator. (1) The average age for a survivor to report their childhood sexual assault is 52 years, and comparatively, our age restriction allows more immunity for the offender. (2,3) Representative Reggie Miller will support Michigan survivors by sponsoring HB 4485 and raising the current age restriction. It is packaged with HB 4482- HB 4490. State Rep. Julie Brixie elaborated on why it is imperative, “When children suffer sexual abuse, they usually don’t disclose that abuse until they’re in their 50s. This phenomenon is well documented and is called delayed disclosure, and delayed disclosure, combined with our state’s archaic statute of limitations law allows 86% of child sex abuse to go unreported.” (4) Only 25-33% of victims disclose in childhood, and 33-70% disclose in adulthood. (5)
Miller’s Access to Justice bill would:
Extend civil statute of limitations from age 28 to age 52.
Extend civil statute of limitations after the time of discovery, from three years to seven years.
Eliminate civil statute of limitations if there is a criminal conviction.
Establish a two-year revival window for survivors whose statute of limitations previously expired.
Remove governmental immunity for criminal sexual assault in some circumstances.
by Cole Beehn
In October of 2021, the City of Monroe appointed a group of 8 people, including our very own Linda Lauer, Andrew Felder, and Cole Beehn to the Trails Advisory Committee which was formed “to assist in the design, planning, and advocacy of the trail system that will eventually connect to a greater Monroe County non-motorized network.” Working together with Lucie Fortin of The Mannik & Smith Group, Inc., we helped form the trails plan for the city’s Parks, Trails, and Recreation Master Plan for 2023-2027. (1)
In 2023, a permanent Bicycle and Pedestrian Trails Committee was appointed which will oversee the implementation of the plan over the next several years. One of the goals of this committee is to increase public awareness of non-motorized transportation safety in an effort to make Monroe a bicycle and pedestrian friendly hub! This will come through a series of road and sidewalk changes including on-street marked bike paths and lanes, as well as off-street shared use pedestrian lanes and more.
With World Bicycle Day being June 3rd, we highly encourage you to pump your tires, adjust your gears, and get out there for some fun rolling in the sun! Just be sure to stay off the regular sidewalks, lest you wind up with a hefty ticket!
Highlighting LGBTQ+ Lobby Day
by Cole Beehn
In a nonpartisan effort to push for safer legislation for Michigan’s LGBTQ+ population, over 80 Michiganders along with Equality Michigan, the Human Rights Campaign, and The Trevor Project converged on the State Capitol in Lansing on May 9th to meet with both House and Senate representatives for LGBTQ+ Lobby Day. On the docket were 2 initiatives of great importance: banning conversion therapy and codifying the process for changing names, birth certificates, and gender markers for transgender and nonbinary communities.
Monroe County Democrats Cole Beehn and Shawna Farley, acting in their roles as Michigan citizens, attended this event and advocated on behalf of these 2 goals. Meeting in the morning with Senator (D) Darrin Camilleri’s staff, they were joined by 5 others to not only educate on the effects of these pieces of legislation, but to share personal stories with those who may not be a part of the LGBTQ+ community. In the afternoon, they met with House Representative (D) Jaime Churches and her staff, as well.
One member opened the 20 minute long meeting by discussing what it was like as a parent of a transgender youth seeking therapy for her child without knowing the potential dangers of stumbling into conversion therapy. According to The Trevor Project, “Conversion therapy refers to a range of dangerous and discredited practices aimed at changing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” Equality Michigan shared that studies have shown that roughly 15% of youth have been subjected to or threatened with conversion therapy, (1) and those who have gone through this process are twice as likely to attempt suicide. (2) Banning conversion therapy would not stop members of religious organizations from taking part in this practice. However, it would put an end to its use by state licensed therapists across Michigan, saving countless parents and children the heartache of seeking professional help, only to find that their practitioner of choice is not using evidence-based best practices in this field.
Cole shared their experience changing their name and gender marker. The whole process for changing one’s name outside of getting married is costly, daunting, and in some ways, quite dangerous. For Cole, it cost roughly $300, and they had to get their fingerprints run at the police station. Then they had to pay for an ad in the newspaper announcing their intent and the date and location of their court hearing. Their home address and legal name at the time were printed for all to see. This was done to give the public the opportunity to object to the name change in court. Thankfully they did not run into any opposition, but this is not the case for all people.
Although the process for name changes is not ideal, changing the gender marker is now a piece of cake thanks to Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson. According to Equality Michigan, only 11% of transgender people reported that they had matching IDs displaying their proper name and gender marker, while 68% reported having no IDs with their proper name or gender marker. “Nearly one third of respondents who have shown an ID with a name or gender that did not match their gender presentation were verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave, or assaulted,” (3) shared Emme Zanotti, Director of Advocacy & Civic Engagement of Equality Michigan. As it stands now, a new Secretary of State could easily reverse this progress, so our main focus was to urge our Representatives to codify this practice into state law.
Cole and Shawna were meant to end the day meeting with their representative Senator (R) Joe Bellino, but unfortunately, he had to cancel just a few hours before. Cole reached out to Senator Bellino later in the day to see if he would be able to meet on another day in Monroe. Their meeting is pending. All in all, the day was full of affirmation, queer joy, and meaningful conversations with our state’s elected officials. This is what it means to be civically engaged!