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Opinion: Punch a Gay Kid

The measure of a society is how it treats the weakest among it; the children no one wants to see, the kids who are left to the wolves. And we’re about to fail.
 
Bullying is unacceptable in Michigan’s schools! Our children should be able to learn in a safe environment, being allowed to be who they are, free of worries of emotional, psychological or physical abuse from staff or students! In order to make our schools safe for all sorts of people with all sorts of viewpoints, let’s only beat up gay kids.
 
That’s Michigan’s plan. Tell me I’m not the only one embarrassed to be from this state right now.
 
It’s in fact a rather ingenious combination of two bills that make aggression toward gay kids an A+ in Bigotry Class: Senate Bill 137 and House Bill 5039.
 
The Senate bill prevents bullying with an exception for “this section does not prohibit a statement of sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” Therefore, any action not rising to the level of criminally prosecuted offense could be considered “expressive conduct” according to Texas v. Johnson, meaning that when the bill says “statement” it means literally anything, from telling someone they’re going to hell to emotional, psychological or social torment, let alone any physically violent act the authorities won’t prosecute.
 
How does that target gay people, though? It could just as easily be used to bully Jews or Muslims. Well, ignoring the fact that that is so doesn’t make it okay, because there’s the little problem of “protected classes.” A protected class is anyone who is forbidden from being discriminated against in public accommodations. If someone files a complaint that a school is behaving unfairly due to immutable characteristics protected by the district, the school might be able to pursue problems of LBGT bullying.
 
Nope! The House took care of this problem! Thanks to Representative Tom McMilian from Rochester Hills, while things like religion, race, and weight are considered protected in Michigan, under HB5039 no one in Michigan would be legally allowed to protect the rights of LBGT individuals, meaning that school districts could not afford them equal protection, and that the bullying bill passed by the Senate can be used perfectly against them.
 

See how clever Michigan’s Republican Party is? We’ve come up with two laws, both really unreasonable, and when put together create an environment in the state where it isn’t just normal to bully gay kids, the state is endorsing it!
 
Thankfully, the State can’t allow real harm to come to kids, right? I mean, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names can never hurt me.” I’m pretty sure that was said by a bully. Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer read letters from students who became suicidal from bullying. She called SB137 a “blueprint for bullying” on the senate floor. Whitmer was nearly moved to tears on the floor of the Michigan Senate, and again reading a letter from a suicidal teen.
 
Whitmer also pointed out that gays aren’t the only not-protected class being affected by SB137. But do the authors of this law want kids to bully the artistic? The un-athletic? To answer that, just look at HB5039, or House Bill 4770 – those kids are collateral damage. The current legislative agenda in this state is dramatically homophobic, and if other kids get hurt to punish the gays, Michigan’s Republican Party seems to be willing to let it slide.
 
A conservative friend of mine said that this was what was wrong with her party: shortsighted bigots who weren’t doing anything about fiscal responsibility like she wanted, but instead telling her to hate her friends.
 
But are we really surprised by this? Making a lot of moves to push an agenda of “Us versus Them” makes a great distraction from the serious problems of the state, like the trend of emotional violence in our schools or the financial woes of our state. Short of actually solving these problems, the next best thing is to find an enemy and rally the state around that. The enemy is the gays.
 
I’m a lesbian. I’ve lived in Michigan my whole life and I think we’re a beautiful state. I love my city, Kalamazoo, and I love the natural beauty that surrounds us everywhere in Michigan. But my state doesn’t love me back. My state wants high school kids to out, abuse, mistreat, alienate and otherwise make the lives of my brothers and sisters a living hell. My state wants to make my city stop protecting my rights to have a home and a job. My state wants to make sure that my straight colleagues get benefits from their jobs that I can’t get. I’m the enemy.
 
So, I should do what any good enemy does: time to go to war.
 
Recently, I wrote an article about HB5039. Like a true journalist I kept a lot of my anger back because, well, that’s what we do. We tell you the truth, and let you make sense of it. But with this Senate action, and the larger trend of anti-gay actions in Lansing, with a state GOP whose job creation plan seems to be “fire all the gays,” it is long since time for me to stop being polite. For all of us to stop being polite.
 
You, dear reader, know someone who is gay. If you don’t think you do, you’re wrong. You know someone who is hurting and whose state is telling everyone else that that is how it ought to be. Time to quit reading articles about the problem and call Lansing. Seriously, stop reading. Right now. Come back after you call someone. And hug your gay friends; they need it.
 
Society belongs to everyone, the measure of it is how it treats the weakest among it; the children no one wants to see. We are about to fail that measure spectacularly and it’s time to do something about it.
 
 

HC Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and in no way represent the feelings of HerCampus™ WMU or its affiliates.
 

Editor: Samantha Sandler

Katelyn Kivel is a senior at Western Michigan University studying Public Law with minors in Communications and Women's Studies. Kate took over WMU's branch of Her Campus in large part due to her background in journalism, having spent a year as Production Editor of St. Clair County Community College's Erie Square Gazette. Kate speaks English and Japanese and her WMU involvement includes being a Senator and former Senior Justice of the Western Student Association as well as President of WMU Anime Addicts and former Secretary of WMU's LBGT organization OUTspoken, and she is currently establishing the RSO President's Summit of Western Michigan University, an group composed of student organization presidents for cross-promotion and collaboration purposes. Her interests include reading and writing, both creative and not, as well as the more nerdy fringes of popular culture.
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