In my district, a woman aged 51 or younger has never had the opportunity in a Democratic primary to vote for a pro-choice candidate.
Harvey Milk believed that getting openly gay people into leadership positions was key to obtaining true LGBT liberation. Currently, there are three openly gay representatives in Congress: Barney Frank, Jared Polis, and Tammy Baldwin. This year, Michigan’s 5th district has the opportunity to add a fourth, and I want to encourage my readers to support him.
Scott Withers is challenging Dale Kildee in the August primary for the Democratic candidacy. Kildee has served as a representative for several decades, but his pro-life stance has gone unchallenged since his first election. Indeed, he was originally one of Stupak’s “dirty dozen” that tried to hold up health care reform.
I had the chance to chat with Withers on Friday afternoon (3/19). I have included audio from the interview as well as details about Withers platform. I encourage you to listen to the clips (click on the teal text to hear excerpts); think about how it sounds to hear a candidate so staunchly supporting LGBT issues. While Withers is committed to many important issues for his district, his candidacy also presents an opportunity to bring a new energy to the many LGBT issues that continue to be waylayed by our national lawmakers. If you like what you hear, consider supporting his campaign against a well-established incumbent. (Campaign contribution information is at the bottom.)
An Inclusive ENDA and Repeal of DADT
Because Withers hasn’t campaigned much on LGBT issues, I started the interview by asking him about some of the issues that are important to our community. He didn’t hold back on ENDA:
…When it comes down to it, if you are a good person doing good work, I would hold out to make sure that it includes everyone in the LGBTQ community.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell should have gone away years and years ago. It’s one of the biggest blunders that President Clinton ever made. It was inappropriate then and it’s inappropriate now.
He went on to call it “disgraceful” and said it should have been gone “a long time ago.” He also acknowledged the recent actions of Dan Choi/GetEQUAL and called out Obama for not following through on his promise to repeal. Take a listen:
It looks like we’re going to have to wait at least another year for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to come up. It’s wrong.
Healthcare, HIV, and Sex Education
I asked Withers what he thought about how many of the LGBT-specific protections had been stripped from the healthcare reform bill. He didn’t hesitate to say that “to mine out LGBT issues from the healthcare bill… is just discrimination.”
He went on to point out that HIV+ individuals suffer from this discrimination whether they are LGBT or not. Withers has serious concerns about the way that HIV no longer receives media attention and thus seems of less concern. Many elected representatives, he points out, go after the 30-second sound bite but don’t necessarily stand up for the important issues. The media, in turn, only focuses on the “hot, juicy” topics of the day. But Withers supports expanding HIV education and outreach, expanding funding for early treatment, and expanding funding for the Ryan White Care Act.
I asked then where he stands on sex education, and I want to include his entire answer here, because he is quite specific about his stance on this issue. He also shares some interesting anecdotes about his own experiences and also the effects of the media:
I wholeheartedly support aged-appropriate sexual education in our public schools across the board. … We have to have a thorough, all-encompassing sexual education program across this country. … I will say that abstinence-only education is the wrong thing to do.
Same-Sex Marriage, Voting on Civil Rights, and the Supreme Court
As someone who has been partnered for ten years, Scott Withers has some passionate views on same-sex marriage. He has serious concerns not only about the issue, but about the precedent of letting people vote on civil rights. In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court said that marriage is a basic civil right of all people, and it can’t be construed as just a religious issue. Listen to the full clip:
National Organization PACs and House Term Limits
Withers wants to make it clear that he is not just going to be a gay congressman. Still, he doesn’t hesitate to call out a “certain national organization” that is running away from him and is afraid to support him. I was personally delighted to hear him offer an honest perspective on LGBT organizations whose work does not appropriately reflect their stated goals.
…”We’ve got someone over here that’s okay—he gets a passing grade or a semi-passing grade—and that’s good enough for us,” and that ticks me off. You’re either dedicated to the community or you’re not.
One of the important points of Withers platform that deserves highlighting is his interest in House term limits. He disagrees with the notion that the House of Representatives should be a place for career politicians. Given his background in business, he thinks it’s more important to hold people accountable. He has self-imposed term limits and one of his top priorities will be instituting a cap on Congressional terms once he is elected. This, he thinks, will help encourage representatives to be more productive. Take a listen:
If it’s good enough for the President to only serve eight years, it’s good enough for a member of the US House, because if you can’t do something in eight years, you need to move on anyways. I’m a business person, and if I can’t get something done in eight years, I don’t need to be in business.
Security and Safety
Withers has already made statements that he supports the use of full-body scanners in airports. Knowing that some of these scanners pose privacy concerns for transgender individuals (PDF), I wanted to challenge him on this issue and give him a chance to defend his position. Here’s the clip:
I don’t want anybody to think that I support taking away people’s personal rights for national security, but as Americans, we have to individually say, “You know what, sometimes I have to give a little bit for what’s best for the country,” and that’s one of the sacrifices that we have to make. So I would suggest and encourage our transgender community to request specific patdowns… by a specific sex if that’s what they’d like when they get to that screener.
Withers also identifies as an Amendment II Democrat, which means he strongly supports the right to bear arms. He does oppose Americans having any access to automatic firearms, but he supports most other gun ownership rights, pointing out that hunting is prominent in Michigan. Given that Flint, MI—one of the five most violent cities in the country—is in his district, I challenged him on how he’d make the streets safer. He explained that it’s important to better fund police departments so they can appropriately protect the city:
Separation of Church and State
Given what I tend to blog about, I had to ask Scott where he stands on faith-based initiatives:
I do not believe that federal dollars should be going to faith-based initiatives. … I don’t agree that we should be giving federal tax-dollars that then turns around and minimalizes or discriminates against any group. That should not be happening.
I struggle to agree with Scott’s suggestion that religious organizations who don’t discriminate should be eligible because I don’t think there should be any precedent for funding religious organizations, but I otherwise applaud him for his strong stance on the issue.
From Entertainment to Politics
Some readers may remember Scott Withers from his work on the Q Television Network (which ceased operations in 2006). I’ve included a clip of some fun highlights of his on-screen work, though he also has experience as a journalist, producer, and executive. I asked Scott to discuss how his work in the entertainment industry has prepared him for political work.
Not only does he see entertainment as an effective way to improve the economy of a region, but he also explained that working in that industry helped thicken his skin for political work.
Withers also explained how his work at Q Television expanded his understanding of LGBT concerns, specifically the unique challenges of our elders:
Scott Withers’ Final Pitch
I invited Scott to make a final statement as to why readers of ZFb should support his candidacy. Take a listen:
If Scott Withers is the kind of candidate you’d like to see serving the American people, please do what you can to support his candidacy.