It’s been a slow, simmering summer in Lansing.
Republicans running the Michigan Legislature, who used to incessantly brag about their impressive fiscal prowess by finishing state budgets by June under a GOP governor, have instead retreated to ever-receding Great Lakes beaches for a little unearned R&R.
But one West Michigan Republican is working, sort of. State Rep. Lynn Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Twp.) has decided to get lathered up over a couple LGBTQ rainbow flags in hopes that it’s her ticket to Congress.
The stunt comes more than four years after a conservative U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is the law of the land, because truly, we’re living in the dumbest timeline.
So here’s what happened.
In June, Gretchen Whitmer became the first Michigan governor to hoist the flags on a state building in honor of Pride month. Afendoulis, a first-term lawmaker who’s eager to make the leap to Washington, saw an opportunity to distinguish herself in a crowded congressional field hoping to unseat libertarian U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Twp.) with a little thinly veiled homophobia.
“I introduced a bill today to ensure the only flags flying above our state Capitol and other state buildings are the U.S. & state flags,” Afendoulis tweeted. “I don’t want to see a war between groups about what flags are being flown on the people’s buildings. I’d rather see a war on identity politics.”
Naturally, this just proves the old maxim: “Never tweet.” But Afendoulis also is rather nakedly telegraphing that she believes the 3rd District GOP electorate can be bought off with some cheap bigotry.
But let’s step back for a minute. To see the flags waving over the governor’s executive office building during Lansing Pride while hundreds of LGBTQ kids stood on the Capitol steps — proudly declaring who they are for the world to see — was incredibly moving.
I will freely admit that I cried — and I wasn’t the only one. Yes, I am bisexual. Yes, my daughter was one of those brave kids. But to live in an era when LGBTQ children are told by key role models that they have nothing to be ashamed of, that they are beautiful and worthy of respect and love, is, I believe, an underestimated good in this world.
It’s certainly not the world I grew up in during the 1980s and 1990s when coming out was a terrifying ordeal for almost everyone I knew.
I feel extremely sorry for Afendoulis for seemingly being incapable of seeing the harm that her crass political maneuver can cause for children. For all the progress we’ve seen, LGBTQ kids and teenagers remain much more vulnerable to suicide, as multiple studies have shown.
I would like to see her look some of those kids in the eye and tell them that she hates “identity politics.”
As I noted during Pride Month, having pro-LGBTQ officials running Michigan like Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel — who took the same-sex marriage fight all the way to the Supreme Court — is a sea change in our state. Nessel has rightly called Whitmer “the most pro-LGBTQ governor” Michigan has ever had.
And you better believe that it makes a huge difference for LGBTQs, especially kids and teenagers.
It’s not much comfort, but it is somewhat amusing that the Republican failed to garner the coverage she was probably expecting, with news outlets doing the old “maybe she meant LGBTQ flags, but she didn’t explicitly say so, so shrug emoji” dance.
Instead, veteran Detroit Free Press political reporter Kathy Gray wrote a short and sweet little ditty titled, “State lawmaker: Michigan shouldn’t fly gay pride flags. Whitmer: Try me.”
“Several hundred people noted that flags honoring such groups as POWs (prisoners of war) and universities often flew on state buildings and would be banned under Afendoulis’ legislation,” Gray wrote. “Many also noted that the legislature left for an extended summer break and had brokered neither a budget deal or plan to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads.”
I’ve tried to get a hold of Afendoulis repeatedly, but both she and her spokeswoman have refused to answer a few basic questions I asked.
So, in the spirit of full disclosure, here’s what I asked: “Is this in response to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer flying LGBTQ Pride flags for Pride month? I am not aware of any other ‘social movement’ flags. Does Rep. Afendoulis support LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage?”
I eagerly await the representative’s response. But honestly, I’d rather see her apologize to all the LGBTQ kids she’s hurt by playing politics.