Earlier this year, Chris Armstrong, an openly gay junior and former intern at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, was elected president of the University of Michigan Student Assembly, which represents tens of thousands of students at one of the country’s most prestigious schools.
It was a quiet victory that we probably should have covered somewhere in our paper. After all, UM is located in Ann Arbor, where America’s first openly LGBT candidate was elected to public office. Kathy Kozachenko, an out lesbian, won a seat on the Ann Arbor City Council in January of 1974. Today, though, Chris Armstrong is a national student hero.
Shortly after the MSA election in March, Andrew Shirvell , a University alum and assistant attorney general for the state of Michigan, took aim at the Michigan Student Assembly and Armstrong in particular. He started a hateful blog directed at Armstrong’s homosexuality.
Shirvell’s moronic blog railed against Armstrong’s “radical homosexual agenda,” demanded his resignation as student president, and at one time displayed a rainbow flag with a swastika in the middle of it next to Armstrong’s image. Subsequent posts labeled Armstrong a liar, an elitist, a racist, and a “viciously militant homosexual activist.”
How bad was the blog? Shirvell even posted that Armstrong was a ‘privileged pervert’ backed by ‘violent supporters.’ Too bad they weren’t. Maybe one of them would have cut off this prick’s balls.
As the debate went front and center nationally, landing on Fox, CNN, and Anderson Cooper, everyone but the Attorney General of Michigan, Mike Cox, seemed to recognize that his employee’s comments were the rantings and ravings of a blatant bigot, a ‘public servant’ paid by state funds in an office charged with defending the civil rights of its citizens. What a freaking disgrace.
To his credit, Armstrong and the student assembly stood strong. He said in one address that “I will not back down. I will not flinch. I will not falter. I will not succumb to any unwarranted attacks. What I will do is I will carry on with the utmost pride and vindication.”
He is a young man to be applauded. If OUT Magazine wants credibility when they publish their annual OUT 100, they name a kid like this and not some drunk flight attendant who slides down the emergency chute of an airplane.
News like this travels faster on the Internet than it does in a weekly paper. By the time you read this column, you will have probably learned that Shirvell has announced he is taking a ‘leave of absence’, and will face a subsequent disciplinary hearing. By now, the Attorney General is regretting not having acted sooner. Given an opportunity to exercise leadership, make a statement, and summarily fire his employee, he was weak and vacillated. Fortunately, the gay community did not.
There is something to be learned from this week-long focus on a young student in Michigan, not unlike the lesson taught earlier this year when a young lesbian in Mississippi was told she could not go to her high school prom. Not unlike the lesson taught to the former Mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Jim Naugle, when he ragged on gays in South Florida two years ago. The message is that we count, we matter, and we don’t have to take crap from anyone anywhere anytime anymore.
We are not just here, queer, and everywhere, a chant heard in the 1970’s when we tried to start a civil rights movement, with pioneers like Kathy Kozachenko, of Ann Arbor, leading the way. Forty years later, we are not only here, we are a political force to be reckoned with. My dad is long gone, but his birthday last week reminded me of a popular phrase which was the calling card of his infantry unit in World War II, the Fighting 94th: ‘Don’t Tread on Me’.
We may not be allowed in your army, America, but watch out. We now have our own. And it is not those big shot organizations holding fancy cocktail parties. It is individuals like Chris Armstrong everywhere standing up to intolerance anywhere