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About a decade ago, judges stopped approving adoptions for lesbian and gay couples. It stopped after a controversial move by a Supreme Court Judge.

Nancy Wheeler is a judge in Washtenaw County who used to preside over the juvenile court where adoptions are recognized. She granted dozens of what are called ‘second-parent adoptions’ to same-sex couples.

“I thought that it was an outrage that we encouraged and, in fact, had a lot of gay and lesbian foster parents, but didn’t allow both parties to adopt the children. So, these children had been in foster care with these same parents sometimes for a number of years and then they were adopted by one,” Judge Wheeler explained.

She reasoned if one person could be an adoptive parent, then two could.

Love-Ramirez family

In Michigan, if you’re gay or lesbian, you can’t get married.

And for LGBT partners who adopt children it’s nearly impossible for both to have parental rights. That causes legal difficulties in providing a secure future for the kids they’re raising.

Two-year-old Lucas has two dads, Kent and Diego Love-Ramirez.

Diego is an airline pilot, and Kent works at Michigan State University.

“We’ve been together just over ten years. And we married in a religious ceremony five years ago and just legally married in Washington, D.C.," said Kent.

Kent and Diego are the only parents Lucas has ever known. But, the State of Michigan does not recognize one of them as a parent.

michigan.gov

Some members of the legislature are once again proposing changes to no-fault auto insurance in Michigan. They say it will save auto owners money. Opponents say the plan is good for insurance companies, but not for accident victims.

Everybody seems to agree auto insurance in Michigan costs too much.

Governor Rick Snyder and the chairs of the Senate and House insurance committees explained the latest plan to reduce the cost.

“In this legislation it would specify that premium costs would come down by $125 per vehicle in the first year and then hopefully because of competition and other things could even see that increase in later years,” Governor Snyder said.

That one-year guarantee of savings would come because of a reduction in the Personal Injury Protection part of auto insurance.

Former Marine Adam Fields, 27, of Modesto, Calif., has been waiting since November 2010 for a ruling on his claim for benefits for traumatic brain injury.
Michael Short / Center for Investigative Reporting

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., says we are failing when it comes to providing health care to those who have served in the military:

"Our nation has a moral obligation to provide quality health care to the men and women who put on our nations uniform and are injured and wounded fighting our nations wars… Our responsibility ends only when the wounds are healed…I am sad to say that we as a nation are not meeting this obligation."

He made these remarks in early April during an opening statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee Joint Hearing on Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs.

Back in August of 2012, we reported on the long wait time for veterans filing disability claims.

At the time of our report, veterans in our area were waiting an average of 319 days for a decision from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs on their disability claims. The national average was 257 days.

Unfortunately, there have been few improvements.

Today, the average wait time in our area is 321 days, a slight increase since 2011. And according to a Missouri Watchdog report published last week, the national average has increased to 290 days.

This map shows the number of backlogged VA claims around the country. The Center for Investigative Reporting updates the map every Monday to show changes in each office's pending claims.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Three townships in the Lansing region will be considering proposals to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression.

In a coordinated effort, Delhi, Meridian, and Delta township officials could vote on protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from employment, housing, and public accommodation discrimination with the next several weeks.

Photo from the 2011 Capital Pride Parade in Washington, D.C.
user ep_jhu / Flickr

Public polling and recent court cases have prompted greater discussion about adding protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Michigan’s civil rights law. Advocates for the change say it’s time to stop legally discriminating against LGBT people. Others say changing the law say it would mean people opposed to homosexual behavior would be discriminated against. The issue is beginning to play out in the Michigan legislature.

Michigan’s civil rights law is known as the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act. It prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, family status, and marital status.

Advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and opponents of gay rights have one thing in common: both sides say discrimination should not be allowed. Where they go from there is very different.

LGBT advocates say sexual orientation and gender expression should be included in the Elliot-Larsen protections.

Anti-gay rights advocates say there’s no need for creating special classes of people to be protected.

courtesy U.S. Housing and Urban Develompment / HUD

Some Michigan residents are turned away for housing even if they can afford the rent for an apartment or the mortgage for a home. In many cases, landlords and bankers can legally discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. This discrimination happens even in communities with laws protecting LGBT people.

Michigan has no state law protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from being discriminated against when it comes to housing. Anti-gay rights advocates say no law is necessary because there are no documented cases of discrimination against LGBT people.

But, in a widely cited report, Michigan’s Fair Housing Centers found there is discrimination by landlords, real estate agents, banks and others involved in housing even in cities where laws prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Rainbow flag, often associated with the LGBT movement
User Marlith / Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Some Michigan legislators have pushed bills calling for religious liberties to be honored through law. But one person’s religious liberty might be another person’s religious suppression.

Much of the debate about same-sex marriage is centered in people’s religious beliefs. The religion with the most followers in Michigan is the Catholic Church. It opposes same-sex marriage.

“Marriage from the Catholic perspective is between one man and one woman because that promotes the creation, the procreation of life,” explained Thomas Hickson, Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy for the Michigan Catholic Conference

It should be noted that a survey of Michigan voters last year found the majority of people who identified themselves as Catholic approved of same-sex civil unions or marriage. But that’s not the Church’s official position.

Recently the Catholic Conference announced its advocacy priorities for the current legislative session.  Among the religious liberties it intends to defend is a 2004 amendment to the Michigan Constitution. That amendment defines marriage as between one woman and one man. It also bans recognition of similar unions- in other words Michigan cannot grant any of the rights or privileges of marriage to same-sex couples. No adoption rights. No survivor’s benefits. No health insurance for public employees.

But, some other religious organizations view same-sex marriage differently and feel gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people should be treated equally under the law.

Rainbow flag, often associated with the LGBT movement
User Marlith / Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act protects many people from discrimination.  You cannot be fired from your job because of your religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, family status, or marital status. But you can be fired for being gay. 

Advocates for LGBT people ask why should gay people be singled out for who they are?

But gay rights opponents say this is not about who they are; this is about their behavior.

Gary Glenn is with American Family Association – Michigan.

“We don’t believe that, for example, a Christian bookstore should be forced to hire some guy who claims to be a woman and wants to wear a dress to work and use the women’s restroom. We don’t believe that a Catholic school ought to be forced to hire an openly homosexual man as a football coach, for example.”

Glenn says it would be an infringement of employers’ rights if Michigan were to amend the state’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect LGBT people.

Rainbow flag, often associated with the LGBT movement
User Marlith / Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

We’d like to think all people are treated equally in America.

In fact, we think our system is set up to make sure that happens. There are, though, people who are not protected.

If the pollsters are right, here’s something you probably don’t know:

It’s perfectly legal to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

A Gallup poll reported nearly nine out of ten people think LGBT people are already protected.

They are not.

screen grab from National Geographic / YouTube

When gang violence breaks out in the roughest parts of Detroit, even the police call for help.

The gang squad is a special, paramilitary unit of the Detroit Police Department.

They're either necessarily tough, or notoriously brutal, depending on who you ask.

But if the city’s Mayor and the Police Chief have their way, the squad's days are numbered. 

Big guys with big guns

Think about it: big guys, with big guns, cruising the city’s toughest streets in the name of law and order. You know what we have here? A reality TV hit.

But dang it, a quick Google search shows the National Geographic Channel beat us to the punch.

Their “Inside Detroit Gang Squad” aired a few years ago, with all the dramatic music and drug raids you’d expect.

A task force says electing Michigan Supreme Court justices should not be as partisan, or as much about money, as other political offices. But according to one watchdog group, last year the Michigan Supreme Court campaign was the most expensive, most secretive judicial election in America. Several recommendations to get some of the politics and secret money out of the Supreme Court elections were ignored by the legislature last year.

It’s coming up on a year since the Judicial Selection Task Force issued a report recommending changes to how we elect Michigan Supreme Court justices. Since then we elected three to the bench. Although the candidates ran on the non-partisan section of the ballot, politics was involved from the beginning.

“Michigan is unusual in that our Supreme Court race is so partisan. The candidates are nominated at a party convention,” said Susan Smith, President of the League of Women Voters of Michigan. Continuing, she said, “And, even though it doesn’t say on the ballot how they got nominated or which party nominated them, it’s really a farce, then, to put it up as a non-partisan election.”

And if politics is not far removed from electing Supreme Court justices, neither is money.

Correction:     An earlier version of this story spelled "Corunna" incorrectly. It has been fixed.

The Corunna Public School District is facing a federal lawsuit after a lesbian teacher was fired. The controversy started with a Diversity Club at the high school in the small town west of Flint.

Brook Johnson was a teacher/advisor to the Diversity Club. In 2009 the club decided to put up a display in honor of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender History month. It featured photos of celebrities who had come out as gay or lesbian. It caused controversy and the school board ordered it removed.

The ACLU challenged the decision. The Corunna Board of Education changed its position and allowed the display.

The lawsuit alleges the administration then turned on Johnson, ostracizing her and then forcing her out.

A new draft report finds allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians hurts Michigan’s economy. The state’s Civil Rights Commission is reviewing the report and might take action.

In Michigan it’s legal to discriminate against people who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender. Housing and job discrimination are a couple of the examples that are allowed by law.

Andy Nguyen / Flickr

The State of the State speech outlines what the Governor sees as spending priorities for the state. But state taxes and spending are only part of the story.   Michigan Watch has learned recovering from the Great Recession will not go as well in Michigan as the rest of the nation this year.

Stateside: Investigating Michigan's homicide rate

Jan 15, 2013
http://jmc.msu.edu/alumni/madisonian.php?id=23

Though the national homicide rate has declined over the past decades, many Michigan cities are struggling to follow the trend.

Dayne Walling, Mayor of Flint and Gregg Barak, Professor of Criminology at Eastern Michigan University and author of "Violence and Nonviolence: Pathways to Understanding" spoke with Cyndy about the state’s homicides.

“Homicide rates across the country are down to about 4.8 per 100,000…Here in Michigan, the state as a whole is at 6.2. In Detroit, it’s eight times higher…I’m not that surprised in terms of Detroit. Its rate today is no higher than it was when we were identified as the murder capital of the world,” said Barak.

traffickfree

The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio above.

Though largely unrecognized and difficult to pin a number to, human trafficking occurs in Michigan. Theresa Flores says the practice increases during events like the North American International Auto Show.

Flores heads Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (S.O.A.P), a group actively working to rescue young girls and boys from trafficking.

S.O.A.P. is making a visit to the Auto Show in an attempt to reduce the prostitution that can plague large events like this.

Stateside: Homeless shelters get a makeover

Jan 10, 2013

Imagine what you might know about physical space and tranquility if you lived in a drug house, an abandoned building, or jail.

That’s the experience for many of the women who stay at the Women and Family Treatment and Shelter at Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries. They often come from intense circumstances to the shelter, in order to make big changes in their lives.

The shelter is housed in a former convent. On the third floor everything reeks of fresh paint. A professional paint company has donated the paint and man power to paint the walls. The long hallway is now sky-blue and the twenty rooms where the women live now have fresh coats of cotton-candy pink and lemon-yellow paint.

Terry Grahl runs the non-profit Enchanted Makeovers and she’s making this large-scale renovation happen by coordinating a symphony of volunteers and businesses. She got a church in Taylor to making curtains for all the rooms. An artist from Georgia is coming in to paint murals on the walls and the shelter is also getting new ceiling fans and new floors.

Kyle Norris

Matthew Dawson is the kid wearing sunglasses inside, in the middle of the day. He’s in a room full of about twenty kids who flip, dip, and cat-walk in a dance style known as “vogue.” (For a quick reference, think Madonna’s “Vogue” video from 1990.)

He says this style of dancing is a powerful way for him to express himself. “One of the emotions I say I put into my vogue is anger. I feel like I put it into vogue so I won’t have to put it into other things that are not very constructive.”

Matthew Dawson says as an LGBTQ young person, if he danced like this in the outside world—or on the street—he would not be safe.  And these vogue dancers find safety in their dance community.

streetmedicine.org

Several Wayne State University students started Street Medicine Detroit in May.

They’d heard about a similar program in Pittsburg and they were inspired. They partnered with a Detroit non-profit called Neighborhood Service Organization and together they created a mobile medical clinic.

Philip Ramsey is a community outreach specialist with NSO. (Rumor has it that if you’re trying to locate a specific homeless person, and you give Ramsey the vaguest of details, he can go out and find that person who might be living in a tent next to highway.)

It’s Ramsey’s job to drive the med team around the streets and back-alleys of Detroit and to help them locate homeless people who are in need of medical services.

So once a week, the van rumbles down Michigan Avenue past prostitutes on the corners and a young man pushing a baby stroller.  Ramsey helps the team find people who are lying down on the ground or sitting on the curb. He says additional clues that someone may be homeless are people with dirty clothes and uncombed hair, or people who are openly drinking.

Stateside: Investigating Detroit's homeless population

Dec 17, 2012
user anonymonous / Flickr

Airing this week will be a series of stories Michigan Radio’s Kyle Norris compiled on Detroit’s homeless population.

To introduce the series,  Norris spoke with Meghan Takashima of the Corporation for Supportive Housing.

They spoke about some of the misconceptions people have about those without a home.

Norris began by noting her inspiration for the stories.

“Something is drawing me to these stories…when I’m with homeless people I have to be real, I have to be a human first and a reporter second,” said Norris.

Stateside: Enbridge Energy's eminent domain issue

Dec 4, 2012
In 2010, oil spilled into a creek near the Kalamazoo River from Enbridge Line 6b
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy is replacing one of its key pipelines that runs through  Michigan. Nearly 285 miles of new pipeline is required to replace the ruptured  line that caused an oil spill in July 2010.

Enbridge took homeowners to court in numerous eminent domain conflicts.

To further address the issue of eminent domain, we spoke with Avery Williams and Alan Ackerman. Williams provides land acquisition advice for Detroit and Ackerman represents displaced persons and businesses in court.

user robscomputer / Flickr

Legislation would give private adoption agencies the legal right to turn down prospective parents for any moral or religious reason.  That’s what’s in a pair of bills being considered by lawmakers in Lansing.

The bills would guarantee private adoption agencies working on state contracts would be protected from rules that could compromise their religious or moral convictions.

user Followtheinstructions / Flickr

This past year, the administration of Governor Rick Snyder put new restrictions on the time families can receive cash assistance. 15,000 families have been cut off from that part of welfare which generally is used to pay rent and utilities. Michigan Watch and the online magazine Bridge have spent the last year looking into the effects of those policies. Those who’ve lost cash assistance say the state is forgetting about the children who are affected.

Like a lot of parents who depended on cash assistance, Erica Underwood is wondering what’s going to happen to her family since the state kicked her off that part of welfare.

Stateside: Poverty simulations

Nov 12, 2012
Washtenaw Housing Alliance

To better inform those unfamiliar with the challenges faced by the impoverished and homeless, Julie Steiner will host a poverty simulation tomorrow night at the Michigan Theater.

Steiner, the director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, spoke with Cyndy about Washtenaw County’s poverty problem.

Michigan Scouts leader decries documented abuse

Nov 4, 2012

A Michigan Boy Scouts official says it's "painful" to look back on the sexual abuse that took place over a 25-year period and that came to light in the release of a nationwide archive.

Boy Scouts of America has an estimated 78,000 members in Michigan.

Political ads are filling the airwaves, but it’s not always easy to know what is true and what is not.

Michigan Watch has teamed up with the Center for Michigan’s Truth Squad to sort it out.

Today we look at Proposal 5 ads. That’s the proposal requiring a two-thirds majority of the legislature or a vote of the people for any state tax increase.

We’re going to start out with the proponents of Proposal 5, the Michigan Alliance for Prosperity. They want you to vote ‘yes.’

John Bebow and the Truth Squad reviewed several radio ads the group is running.

It’s obvious why the Ambassador Bridge-owning Moroun family is backing Proposal 6. That’s the ballot measure that would require of vote of the people to build international crossings. It would be another step toward blocking a competing bridge Canada has offered to fund.

After the presidential race, the top of the ballot in Michigan is the U.S. Senate race.  Michigan Watch teamed up with the Center for Michigan’s Truth Squad to review recent ads produced by Republican Pete Hoekstra and Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow.

Truth Squad on Prop 4

Oct 16, 2012

Michigan voters have plenty of homework to do before election day. One of the more complicated of the five proposed amendments to the Michigan Constitution is Proposal 4.  Michigan Watch teamed up with the Center for Michigan’s Truth Squad to review the ads.

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