I am running for the Lansing Community College Board of Trustees here in Michigan. It's not a glamorous post, and it doesn't pay. Heck, it is a six-year commitment. For most people, it sounds like either a political stepping stone to greater fame and fortune in politics, or pure torture.
For me, it's about giving back to a community that has blessed me with so much. I graduated from LCC in 1993. The years I spent at the college provided me with a broad set of experiences — on the student government, on the student newspaper, as activist for LGBT equality and in theater. The sum of those experiences have resulted in the person I am today
I was proud to be the first openly gay man elected to serve on a community college board of trustees in Michigan in 2001. And I was proud to serve two hard years on the board, completing a partial term which resulted from resignations during a very controversial time of leadership and financial changes at the college. Those two years I served, however, we, as a board of seven, accomplished a great deal.
We realized that the funding model in use was not going to last. State revenue sharing was going to decline because the state's budget was under pressure. In fact, years before the 2008 Great Recession wiped out wealth and property values across the nation, Michigan was already spiraling into a financial crisis of unemployment and foreclosure. As a board, we move to shift that funding model from the lopsided expectation of the majority of funds coming from state revenue sharing, to a balanced approach which made a clear balance between state revenue, tuition and local property taxes. This move allowed LCC to weather the 2008 Recession without massive and draconian cuts.
We also directed the administration to cut administrative overhead and shift that funding back into the classroom, where it belonged. That resulted in $1 million being dedicated to the classroom, supporting students and student success, rather than feeding a bloated administration.
We asked our residents to approve a millage to pay for new buildings; and we won. Voters approved a millage which helped fund the building of the new Health and Human Services (HHS) building and West Campus. The HHS building provided a state of the art space to train the next generation of medical professionals in Michigan. The West Campus created a dedicated campus for high technology training programs. The kind of programs that lead to high paying jobs.
And during our time, the board I served on became the first community college in Michigan to adopt domestic partner benefits for same-sex partners. We also became the first community college to adopt a policy analysis which protected transgender persons from discrimination through the college. That later move was useful years later when Spring Arbor University attempted to become a partner university in the college's new University Center — which houses four year programs from a variety of universities right on the downtown campus of the college. Spring Arbor had been making headlines because Dr. Julie Nemecek had been fired from there because she was transgender. She sued, and ultimately settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. But Spring Arbor was held accountable by the college. They were asked to sign an agreement to honor LCC's non-discrimination policies — and when Spring Arbor said no, LCC booted them from the University Center partnership.
As I noted, I got my start at LCC. It's highly unlikely you would be reading this commentary, or any of the other work I have produced for HIV Plus, The Advocate, Between The Lines, The American Independent News Network, or scores of other publications across the state of Michigan, and the country had I not had the experiences I did at LCC.
I was raised to believe that we have an obligation to give back to our communities. I believe that to this day. But I, like many of us living with HIV, don't have the financial resources to provide significant funding to the college. I do, however, have the time, skills and experience to help guide the college's policy and budget decisions to benefit our students for a generation to come. This is how I can give back to the community.
And the LCC community is responding to that message. That's why I am honored to have been unanimously endorsed by the entire Clergy Forum of Greater Lansing — a group of predominantly African-American ministers — as well as Equality Michigan Pride PAC. I am the only candidate those two groups endorsed in this election. I was also endorsed by the Lansing Fourth Ward Progressives, Between The Lines newspaper, and a host of elected and community leaders in the area, people of all sorts of political beliefs, from conservative to liberal.
Yes, I am living with HIV and yes I am Michigan's first openly HIV-positive candidate for elective office. Those are important to note, but why? LCC is located in Lansing, which is part of Ingham county. Ingham has the highest HIV prevalence rate in Michigan outside of Wayne county, where Detroit is located. Despite this, there is a shocking lack of conversations happening about HIV in this community. The stigma here can be oppressive. But silence does not challenge stigma. Using our voices and living our truths, however, do challenge, undermine and ultimately exile stigma from our communities.
So, in part, this run for the LCC Board is about showing people that living with HIV in 2014 is not a death sentence. It is not something I am ashamed of, nor something I will back away from. It is part of who I am, and part of the unique life experience that makes me who I am — and makes me qualified to represent the whole community of the LCC district.
Here's to Nov. 4 — whether I win or lose, I can stand up and say, "I am speaking my truth without fear. I will not cow to your outdated understanding of HIV. I am a member of this community and I have much to give." And that is something we can all be proud of.
Here's a video we created for my campaign, and here's my website.