OAKLAND UNIV., Mich – It was almost a year and one-half ago that Alexa Van Vliet began to involve herself in politics. She received training in a program sponsored by the Center for Progressive Leadership, a national training institute that develops leaders to advance progressive political change. While there she learned the importance of engaging in the legislative process.
It also gave her the confidence to lobby and articulate the issues she feels passionate about. She came out wanting to “make Michigan better.”
Taking place a year before the Republican takeover of the Michigan legislature, she may not have realized how useful the training would be.
Today, Van Vliet is the president of the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at Oakland University located in the suburbs of Detroit. The students she works with are more deeply concerned with Republican control of the Michigan state government than ever.
With that Republican takeover came a flood of destructive bills, among them two that targeted LGBT people special discrimination.
Two bills that would not make Michigan better are House Bills 4770 and 4771.
HB 4770 prohibits public employers from providing domestic partner medical benefits and HB 4771 mandates that bargaining for public employee domestic partner medical benefits be a prohibited subject.
Van Vliet said the bills have had their second reading in the Oversight, Reform and Ethics Committee headed by Michigan House Republican Tom McMillin.
McMillin’s district includes Oakland University. Van Vliet says it “adds a little punch to it because he is my representative.”
She says the GSA has been phone banking the Republican members of the committee urging them to not support the bill. The two committee Democrats have already voiced opposition, and Michigan’s labor unions have strongly condemned the legislation.
Van Vliet says the work of GSA is not limited to issues affecting members of the LGBT community. The reputation of the group has grown as they work with many of the 190 student organizations and are becoming known for “supporting equality in general.”
She understands the importance of building unity and coalition building. As a member of a “minority” group, “one thing you realize, you can’t get anything done unless you have support of some of the majority.”
“Our fight has to be coupled with everyone else. If we support each other, we have the numbers to win those rights for everyone.”
The GSA has participated in fundraisers for victims of floods and earthquakes in Pakistan and Japan. They also raised funds for the family of Corey Jackson, an openly gay OU student who committed suicide on campus last year. While there was no proof the horrible tragedy resulted from bullying, Van Vliet said there was a lack of discussion afterwards from the administration and others.
She says the fight for LGBT rights is so important because there are people in every community who identify as LGBT: “there are Republicans who are gay, every ethnic group, every religion, we’re everywhere. I always think back to Martin Luther King where he says an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere and I think that really does apply to the LGBT community.”
Toward the end of May, Van Vliet went to the Michigan Summit in Lansing and attended the large teachers’ rally afterwards. She found the labor demonstration inspiring, saying Lansing is a long drive from here, “but if I had more time, I’d be there every day.”
This coming fall she will be a senior. She’s majoring in Psychology with minors in Spanish and Public Administration.
Her final semester at OU will be the fall semester of 2012. The national elections will take place as her undergraduate studies are wrapping up. She’d like to see a stronger push from the 190 student organizations to mobilize their membership, know the issues and vote.
As Van Vliet puts it her last days on campus will be spent being part of a “final hurrah.”
Photo: Alexa Van Vliet heads Oakland University's Gay-Straight Alliance. (PW/John Rummel)