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Commentary

Bill Schuette seems more interested in dividing people rather than uniting them

Jack Lessenberry

Once upon a time there was a Republican politician who took office at a time when the nation was bitterly divided over social issues.

He knew this was not the way things should be.

“We are not enemies, but friends,” he pleaded with his people. He told them he was optimistic that America would do better, and that our hearts would be touched by “the better angels of our nature.”

By now I suspect you’ve figured out the speaker was Abraham Lincoln. Or at least that it wasn’t Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. The attorney general does not appear to be interested in uniting people but dividing them, by appealing to bigotry and their fears.

Three years ago he wasted millions of the state’s money in a futile attempt to deny two lesbian nurses the right to adopt several special needs children they had been caring for. His tactics were so ham-handed that the federal judge disqualified some of his witnesses, and delivered a verdict that was a humiliating rebuke to Schuette.

Subsequently, the nation’s highest court found that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right, and Michigan had to reimburse nearly $2 million in attorney fees for the nurses.

Now Schuette has turned to persecuting transgender students.

Late last week, he announced he was joining a lawsuit seeking to overturn President Obama’s decision to direct schools to allow any student to use the restroom and locker room that matches that particular student’s gender identity.

The attorney general did not say, of course, that he was appealing to fears that boys would dress up and invade girls’ lavatories to stare at and possibly molest them. Nor did he say that he thought transgender people were perverts.

... in typical Orwellian language, he said exactly the opposite of what he really meant.

He didn’t have to.

Instead, in typical Orwellian language, he said exactly the opposite of what he really meant. Schuette said he was seeking to “protect the dignity and privacy of all Michigan students,” and said the decision to allow transgender children to protect their own dignity and privacy was “federal overreach.”

That’s the kind of language segregationists used years ago to protest federal decisions that black people should have equal rights.

What Schuette believes personally is impossible to know. What is known is that he wants the Republican nomination for governor in two years, and likely thinks bashing transgender people will help increase his appeal to social conservatives.

This may be safer political ground than opposing same-sex marriage, but morally, it is wrong.

Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee had the guts to call Schuette out on this, saying that what the lawsuit means to do is “exclude one sector of our population – transgender individuals – from federal protection.”

I don't know if the attorney general knows of this study. But based on everything I do know, I'd be surprised if he cared.

Noting that they are among the most persecuted people in society, Kildee correctly noted that the government was seeking “simply to protect them in the schools.”

Incidentally, an institute at the law school at UCLA has been studying whether allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice leads to more crimes by predators.

Everything they’ve found so far indicates it does not – but that without this protection, it’s those who are transgender who are at risk of assault. I don’t know if the attorney general knows of this study. But based on everything I do know, I’d be surprised if he cared.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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