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The Rights Of Lesbians And Gay Men

The Rights Of Lesbians And Gay Men image
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Agenda Publications
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1 986 was not a good year for gay men and lesbians n the University and larger community. Recent events on the University of Michigan campus Ilústrate both homophobic intolerance and a lack of positive institutional response to the concerns of gay men and lesbians. Early in December 1986, a person or persons unknown defaced the bulletin board used by the LesbianGay Law Students group at the U-M Law School. A collection of cartoons attached to the board had the acronym "AIDS" repeatedly scrawled over tts surface in large letters written in black crayon. Other examples of bigotry and harassment may be found in the The Michigan Raw Review. The April 1986 edition of The Review asks, "Did you ever wonder why you never knew who belongs to the LesbianGay Law Student Society?" and prints other offensive remarks about sexual orientation, about women as a ciass, as well as about particular women. Such disregard for the feelings and human dkjnity of The Review's targets does not augur well for the quality of service that these authors and prospectivo attorneys may see fit to sell to their future clients, nor can it be viewed as being to the credit of a Law School administration that countenances such a publication. The climate of harassment in the U-M Law School is only one example of the discriminatory atmosphere elsewhere on campus, where verbal slurs and other attacks on lesbians and gay men are made directly and by implication not only by students but reportedly by staff and faculty members as well. Although the University has a policy against sexual harassment and a policy against discriminaron based on sexual orientation, no positive response has been given to the request made by lesbian and gay male members of the University community that the University officially amend ts Regental By-laws so that "sexual orientation" would be formally included as a "category protected against discrimination." Nor has the University seen fit to include "sexual orientation" in ts logo, which states "It is the policy of the University of Michigan, that no person on the basis of race, sex, national origin or ancestry . . . shall be discriminated against in employment, educational programs and activities, or admissions." The University refuses to alter its Bylaws and logo because of the lack of formal complaints. Students and staff members have informally reported instances of discrimination and harassment since University President Harold Shapiro issued the non-discrimination policy in March 1984. However, these victims of discrimination have feit that to enter their names in official University records and files by filing formal complaints would subject them to further harassment, particularly since the phenomenon of AIDS and the psychosocial response to it have brought the rights of lesbians and gay men under renewed attack at local, state, and national levéis. Another important local issue is the AIDS policy of the Ann Arbor Public Schools. In April 1986 the School Board adopted a "Communicable Disease Policy," stating that "any student or staff member reasonably suspected of having a communicable disease . . . may be excluded from school or the workplace pending confirmation by a physician." The term "reasonably suspected" is not defined. The policy subjects students and School Board employees to a witch-hunt environment. It is suspect particularly because, in the minds of many, a "positive" result from the HIV antibody test is equated to "having AIDS." A similar facile and hypothetical connection is often made between a known or suspected homosexual orientation and AIDS. The policy is unnecessary. It violates the guidelines formulated by the Center for Disease Control and t creates (according to the Michigan Organization for Human Rights) an unreasonable intrusión into the lives of employees and students without any compelling medical justification. According to Superintendant Richard Benjamin, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the Michigan Civil Rights Commision are reviewing the policy. Changes suggested by these agencies will be considered by the School Board, according to Superintendent Richard Benjamin. The City of Ann Arbor has begun to consider the creation and adoption of an AIDS policy concerning City employees. This effort must be watchdogged to ensure that any policy adopted by the City will strike a reasonable balance between public health concerns and the rights of individuals and groups. At the state level, the Michigan Senate's Public Health Committee will soon consider the two AIDS bilis passed by the State House of Represe ntatives n September. The Engler bill would require that anyone arrested for soliciting or engaging in private or public homosexual activity, for prostitution, or for drug abuse, be administered the AIDS antibody test. The O'Connor bill would require persons in "high risk" groups seeking marriage licenses to take the antibody test before being issued a marriage license. Positive test results would be recorded in govemment records. The bilis are unnecessary and ineffective and may hurt the state-funded AIDS-prevention program already under way. The bilis are costly and discriminatory as well. "Besides denying the civil liberties of those directly involved," says Liz McGough, a lobbyist for the Michigan Organization for Human Rights, the bilis, "will also have the effect of increasing both pólice entrapment and job discriminatbn." At the Federal level, the U.S. military service began a screening program in 1985. In November the Foreign Service announced a screening program for applicants, officers, and dependents. Job Corps students, applicants, and staff members will be tested beginning February 1, 1987 for exposure to the AIDS virus. These testing programs are clearly unconstitutional and unethical and must be opposed. As we look forward to 1 987 we need to realize thal a future more supportive of our rights depends in large part on our own nvolvement in protesting harassment and discrimination wherever t occurs. For complaints concerning the intolerant atmosphere of the U-M Law School, contact Terrance Sandalow, Dean, Law School, University of Michigan, 301 Hutchins Hall, Ann Arbor, Ml 48109-1215, telephone 764-051 4. To encourage a positive change in the University's by-laws and "logo," contact Virginia Nordby, Director, Affirmative Action Programs, U-Mi, 2012 Fleming Adminstration Bldg., Ann Arbor, Ml 481091340,(763-5082). Register your opposition to the Ann Arbor School Board's AIDS policy by getting in touch with Supt. Richard Benjamin, 2555 S. State Road, Ann Arbor, Ml 48104, (994-2200. At the state level, contact Sen. Vernon Ehlers Chairman, Senate Committee on Public and Mental Health, State Capítol, Lansing, Ml 48909, (517373-1801). Be sure to send a copy of your letter to your own state senator at the State Capítol. On the fedral level, contact the National Gay Task Force at 1517 U Street, N.W., Washington DC 20009, telephone (202) 332-6483 and the Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, 132 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036, (2129949488). The following organizations would appreciate copies of any statements that you send to the above persons and agencies: GLF, co 4117 Michigan Union, Ann Arbor, Ml 48109 (763-4186 or 6621977); the Lesbian & Gay Male Advocates at U-M: 3116-3118 Michigan Union, Ann Arbor, Ml 48109-1349 (763-4186); the Michigan Organization for Human Rights at 17520 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48203, (869-MOHR); the American Civil Liberties Union, at 662-5189 (Washtenaw chapter), or ACLU, 1553 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48226 (961-4662); the Michigan Department of Civil Rights 2562663 or (51 7) 373-7634. The future's not "ours to see"; t is, however, something that we can help créate. Instead of allowing homophobic persons and groups to control our lives, let's work together for our liberation.