By Spencer White and Claire Van Raaphorst
On Friday, April 4, around a dozen Albion College students organized a protest in front of the Ferguson Hall administration building. According to documents distributed by the protesters, the students gathered to protest Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette’s place on the Albion College Board of Trustees.
The protest was engineered by Kate Tonge, Midland sophomore. Tonge was out since she first stepped foot on Albion’s campus. She has always felt that Albion was a safe place for LGBTQ students like herself.
But part of that feeling was broken upon finding out that Trustee Schuette was fighting against marriage equality.
Her inspiration for the protest started with “thinking about the fact that our Board of Trustees really represents us and how does that reflect on our campus because it’s not just Bill Schuette’s name in the newspaper affecting marriage equality, what he says and does affects us on this campus,” Tonge said.
According to the documents circulated by the protesters, attorney general Schuette’s defense of Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage conflicts with Albion College’s diversity statement and statement of non-discrimination, the former of which the Board of Trustees approved during the 1991-92 academic year.
The protesters’ statement read,
“Sadly, Trustee Schuette, in his capacity as attorney general of Michigan, has proven that he does not share the value of deep mutual respect, nor does he celebrate or support equality of all members of the Albion community… we have still come to the determination that Schuette is not a healthy ally to the Albion community and should resign from his position as a member of our Board of Trustees.”
Forty-degree temperatures, rain and wind didn’t stop the protesters. Students held signs featuring slogans such as “Non-discrimination: apply liberally” and “We don’t trust Bill Schuette.” Students took turns leading call-and-response chants, asking “Who are we, what are we,” and receiving answers of “Albion College, open and affirming!”
Joshua Brandt, Cantona, Fla., sophomore, is not a member of the LGBT community, but he attended the protest. He feels that the conflict between Schuette’s actions and the values an Albion College trustee should uphold merits outcry.
“I find that the idea of equality should be something that is forwarded by people who are supposed to represent us and know our interests,” Brandt said. “[Albion College] is supposed to be an open environment for everyone, and we have this man who is trying to forward discrimination.”
When asked what he hoped would come of the protest, Brandt said that he hoped more people would be conscious of the plight of the LGBT community.
“I’m not here because I like yelling,” Brandt said. “I’m here because my friends need me for a cause.”
An appearance from Emily Dievendorf, executive director of Equality Michigan and political director for the statewide political action committee, gave the event high-profile exposure. Equality Michigan is the only statewide equality advocacy organization in Michigan dedicated to LGBT issues. The organization rallies the LGBT community, as well as lobbies against anti-LGBT in the political sphere.
Dievendorf commented on the conflict between Schuette’s politics and the values of an Albion College trustee for The Pleiad in an interview during the protest.
“Schuette is not on the side of the people at this point,” Dievendorf said.
Dievendorf compared Schuette to Mozilla CEO Brandon Eich, who recently stepped down amid outcry over his donations to legislation that outlawed same-sex marriage in California.
“There’s the question of is it OK for a CEO to be anti-marriage equality,” Divendorf said. “Can they have their own personal beliefs that are against marriage equality? The people are saying no, it’s not OK to have such a belief and be in a position of leadership and authority. I’d say that Bill Schuette being on the Board [of Trustees] of a university is a good example of that.”
Dievendorf outlined the clash of principles that led to protesting Schuette.
“These are our nation’s next leaders at university, and by being anti-marriage equality and in a position of leadership, he’s saying that a good number of those next leaders are not OK as human beings,” Dievendorf said. “That’s a degrading and damaging message to be sending to the people whose lives he has some control over.”
“Protest is one angle we come at to solve a problem,” Dievendorf said. “It’s not the only way we can do it, it’s one way. It’s essentially to make visible that there’s an opposing viewpoint. Protests can never exist on their own. It is a way to show that there is a demand being made, and to do so in a way that others know that demand exists, in case they are feeling hesitant to do so themselves. We should never expect protest to do the job of making the change happen on its own. It helps others to know they can come forward. It helps those in power who are resisting know that the demand is out there. It creates that public dialogue.”
“What a lot of people don’t realize that once we achieve marriage, we may get to a place where someone can get married on Friday, have that picture of themselves and their spouse to put on their desk and then on Monday be fired for being gay,” Dievendorf said.
Marriage equality is a very real and present concern for students. A gay couple on campus, who asked to remain anonymous in The Pleiad, were engaged this year and are unable to marry in the foreseeable future.
The couple have known each other since high school, and after a long time of being close, they started dating two years ago. After about a year and a half, they decided to get engaged. They weren’t out in high school and now they are not even out to most of their families. They, in fact, only came out to most people when they got engaged. One cited waiting to be out on her own before telling their “really Republican and really Catholic” family her sexual orientation.
Though several states in the U.S. have legalized gay marriage, this couple is waiting for Michigan to follow suit.
“We’re waiting on Michigan,” said the anonymous student. “We have been here our whole lives and have never lived anywhere else. I think it’s really important to us, this whole fight for Michigan. It’s already progressing so much in other states and I feel like it would be kind of giving up for us to move to like New York because it’s legal there. Sticking around is very important to us and being involved in the fight.”
They hoped to see a change in Michigan’s climate towards gay people in their lifetime.
“It’s scary that you have to be anonymous in The Pleiad because you don’t want your future employer to look at this and decide they don’t want you because they don’t have to protect you,” she said.
During the protest, Interim President Mike Frandsen addressed the crowd. He didn’t comment on their call for Schuette to resign from the Board, but said he understood their concerns and shared them with the Board of Trustees.
On Monday, April 7, The Pleiad contacted the Albion College public relations office, but it did not release an official statement on Friday’s protest.
Photos by Spencer White
This article, originally posted April 7, was updated May 5 to reflect that Interim President Frandsen understood the protestors’ concerns and shared them with the Board. An earlier version of the story implied that he shared the protestors’ views.