Grand Rapids Community College held a forum Sept. 19 in Sneden Hall discussing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and amendment of the Elliot Larson Civil Rights Act.
Regina Calcagno, member of Department of Civil Rights and creator of the forum, sat on a stage during her fourth hearing concerning the act’s amendment, inviting people in the audience to speak their minds and talk about their own experiences of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The Elliot Larson Civil Rights Act allows people to receive employment, housing, educational facilities, and other services without discrimination based on religion, race, color, etc.
The LGBT research project is about hearing what people have to say to determine whether or not the State of Michigan Department of Civil Rights should amend the Elliot Larson Civil Rights Act.
Though the forum had a small turnout, many stories were shared. Calcagno was assigned to the social research project to seek out and listen to testimonies from people all over Michigan. Calcagno encourages everyone to speak their minds, opposed to the idea or not. Calcagno supports people to have the ability to have open speech.
“All opinions matter. All perspectives matter,” Calcagno said.
Calcagno has traveled to Jackson, Holland, Ann Arbor, and Detroit. Calcagno said that Holland, with 200+ attendees, was the most diverse and most vocal audience they have had yet. There were so many people that the room was overflowing. She said that while in Jackson, she learned people are leaving their homes due to the paranoia of feeling unsafe from discrimination.
Calcagno said the project helps create a narrative story about the problem. LGBT is hoping for a grant renewal. The project is separate from state funding. The testimonials will be going to legislature and then to the governor.
” The state benefits the most from these hearings,” Calcagno said.
There were many people from the audience who spoke, one of them a GRCC student.
“If I was to walk into a business and I wanted a job there, I would be denied,” the student said. “It is because of my orientation. It’s not because I don’t work well. It just matters who I love, and I shouldn’t be denied that right because I’m gay.”
Audience member Rhonda Bacon applied to the Foster Grandparents Program and said she was legally denied because her gender presentation did not match her legal gender identification. The next year, she applied, but she got turned down because they told her someone who gets turned down before is no longer eligible. Bacon said it did not have anything to do with her education, given Bacon has four master’s degrees, her ability to deal with children in general, given she has two children and 14 grandchildren, and that it didn’t have anything to do with her ability to relate to other human beings. Bacon was hoping to come to an understanding and to encourage young students to develop self-consideration and self-confidence, which she feels is vital now.
Calcagno encourages people of any stance to contact her. The option of being anonymous is available. Email a testimony to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 517-241-4319