I'm back now from the whirlwind HRC Clergy Call. I want to tell you about the experience of lobbying itself. Amongst the 300+ clergy and other participants from all 50 states, there were only two of us from Michigan, myself and a very wonderful staff person, Heather Grace, from the Faith Action Network of the American Friends Service Committee. HRC provided a staff member to go with each state team, as well. We had Cristina Finch, who grew up in Michigan.
So the three of us together went to see Senator Levin and Senator Stabenow, and we met with their staff representatives (although not the senators themselves). Levin is already a co-sponsor of the Matthew Shepard Act, which is wonderful, and we're hoping for Stabenow's co-sponsorship, as well. The meetings were upbeat and very friendly to our message. We're hoping both of them will vote for the employee non-discrimination act when it is introduced. Since the AFSC doesn't have a position yet on the Matthew Shepard Act, I talked about that one and Heather Grace talked about ENDA, and Cristina Finch backed us up with numbers, dates, and other information.
Then our team of three divided up and Heather Grace and Cristina Finch went to visit with two Michigan Congressmen together, while I went to meet with Congressman Mark Schauer, who I got to see in person after talking for a while with his staff member. The Matthew Shepard Act already went through the House successfully, with Schauer voting for it, so part of the purpose was to simply thank him for his support and tell him how much it meant to us.
ENDA is a trickier sell in our district, with the high-profile firing for being transgender of Julie Nemecek from Spring Arbor University happening in this congressional district. In fact, I was told later, this case was brought up as an argument against supporting ENDA by an congressman that Heather Grace and Cristina Finch visited. Given the touchiness in this area around this case, it would be understandable if Schauer felt he couldn't vote for ENDA. However, after our visit, I have high hopes that he will be able to. I stressed with his staff member that it's important for people in our area to understand that there is a religious exemption to ENDA, because of separation of church and state. The truth is, as a religiously affiliated university, Spring Arbor University would still be free to fire someone for being transgender, even after ENDA passes. I'm sure they know and understand that. Of course, I wish they would change their hearts about how they treat lgbt employees, but that's truly a separate issue. And much as it enables people to take actions I personally disagree with, I believe strongly in the separation of church and state. And, as a religious professional, I believe we need to be able, as a church, to choose who we hire and to hire people in keeping with our religious beliefs. I wouldn't want to have to hire someone for religious education director who believes lgbt people are sinners and should be stoned to death right now, even if he or she was the most qualified applicant, after all!