Demas: Same-sex marriage has been legal for 4 years. A Michigan Republican still thinks homophobia is a winning ticket to Congress.

July 29, 2019 8:08 am

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had Pride flags hoisted on the Romney Building for the first time | Susan J. Demas

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.

Lynn Afendoulis | Nick Manes

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.

LGBTQ kids assembled at Michigan Pride, June 15, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

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.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at Affirmations, an LGBTQ center in Ferndale, June 3, 2019 | Derek Robertson

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.”

For her part, Whitmer promptly clapped back on Twitter: “My veto pen is ready.” It was liked more than 8,100 times, compared to a whopping 55 for Afendoulis’ initial tweet.

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.

AG will offer opinion, but says Legislature should ban LGBTQ discrimination

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.”

Pro-LGBTQ officials running Michigan is a sea change

Afendoulis sniffed on Twitter that she’d never spoken to Gray, who quoted her press release back to her like a boss.

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.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.