Chris Armstrong & Student Government

Like I mentioned here, student government can get pretty intense. At least, that was my experience, and the experience of my colleagues. But this?

Is beyond the pale. Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell, of Michigan, has been stalking and harassing University of Michigan’s openly gay student body president Chris Armstrong. AAG Shirvell even has a blog dedicated to bullying this young man!

David Layton, Democratic candidate for Michigan Attorney General, has released a statement demanding current AG Mike Cox fire Shirvell, as well as called for his opponent, Republican Bill Schuette to join him in condemning Shirvell’s actions and demanding his termination.

Mike Cox, current Attorney General, had refused to fire Shirvell, saying that “All state employees have a right to free speech outside working hours. But Mr. Shirvell’s immaturity and lack of judgment outside the office are clear.” So he thinks his Assistant Attorney General is immature and has a lack of judgment, but still thinks he’s worthy of being an employee of the Michigan Justice Department?

Chris has responded only once during this debacle–he made a statement during a student government meeting. Everyone has lauded his grace and dignity in handling this harassment and degeneration of his character and of his person. I laud his strength and his dedication–my colleagues and I dealt with plenty of insults and criticism of our every move, though nothing to the level of what Chris is dealing with. And it was hard.

What everyone forgot was that we were college students–we had a full load of classes, with books to read, papers to write, and research to do, just like they did. We had families, friends, and partners to spend time with just like everyone else. Most of us were involved in other campus organizations, clubs, honor societies, or athletics.We were in student government because we wanted to help. We wanted to make the university a better, friendlier, cheaper, and more convenient experience for us, our friends, and all the other students, current and future. Our intentions were good. We weren’t evil Politician Jr’s, looking to take over the university and better our situations at the expense of everyone else.

What everyone forgot was the time we invested. The executive cabinet regularly devoted 40 hours a week to student government–they were only required, by the Student Government’s Constitution, to devote 8-12 hours a week, depending on their position. We met with administrators & professors. We met with student groups and individuals, listening to the issues they had, and the things they wanted to do, but needed money to put in motion. We filled out paperwork and wrote legislation. We coordinated with other student governments in the state’s universities to rally in Frankfort to meet with legislators to talk about higher education funding. Senators were only required to attend the weekly Senate meeting and attend one committee meeting a week. Many were much more involved than that, spending hours in the office, working alongside exec.

I don’t doubt that Chris does the same. Knowing you’re doing everything you can to help your campus community, and knowing that some will continue to criticize every move you make, every word you say, despite that you’re the same age, with the same experiences, bugs the crap out of you. It cut us to the core–we had no experience dealing with something like that. We never imagined, and no one ever told us that we might be thrust in the spotlight because of our work behind the scenes.

We talked about it a lot. We wanted to say, “if you don’t like what we’re doing, or what we aren’t doing, why don’t you join student government? Why don’t you try to make change? We will help you. We will throw our resources and our experience behind you.” Eventually, we said it. No dice. The critics were fine with insulting our ability, our motives, our intelligence, but they didn’t want to help fix the “problems” they saw.

It could be hard, since the student newspaper without fail would give them a platform to spew their venom. They ate it up.The difference between our situation and Chris’ is that he is being attacked because of who he is. This is undoubtedly not the first time, and undoubtedly not the last. Because of the idea that expressing your “opinions” in your treatment of others is not only okay, but vital in keeping your “freedom,” that respect is “PC” and therefore undesirable, shit like this happens.

Chris is lucky. He has the support of his university, his professors, and his peers. But he is unlucky that this man is in a position of power over the entire state. This man has resources to drive across the state the follow him on campus, to his home, to the homes of his friends and their parents. This man also, judging from his appearance on CNN, has no compunction about using the power of his office to further prosecute, harass, and intimidate Chris, should the opportunity arise.

I cannot imagine the extent of the stress Chris is under right now. I can identify with the sort of experience that he is dealing with, but not the scale, and certainly not being attacked on a national scale because of who I am.

University of Michigan students, thank you for standing by Chris. Continue to stand by him. Not only because he’s your President. Not only because he’s a member of the UM family. But because he is a human being, and no one, no one, deserves such treatment.

I’m so heartened to read this article from the Michigan Daily, UM’s campus newspaper, both because Shirvell is being disciplined, and because the UM community is rallying so fervently behind Chris. Thank you. Thank you, to everyone at UM.

Chris is one of many. Many LGBT kids, students, adults, and elderly are attacked, harassed, tortured, and killed for simply being who they are. Continue to rally around Chris, and show your support for not only him, but the entire community of people he represents on this planet: the gay community.

Here are some suggestions:

-Continue to write letters to the campus newspaper expressing your support of Chris and the LGBT community.

-Write a letter to your hometown newspaper, sharing what’s happening to Chris, and why it’s so important to express support of the LGBT members of your hometown.

-Post a sign in your dorm window, door, or on your car, expressing support for the LGBT community, and for Chris, and his right to live free of harassment, stalking, and attacks on his character and person.

-Join your campus LGBT group. Learn how you can be an ally, just be standing in solidarity with them, or by getting involved as an activist.

-Most importantly, call out friends and family members when they say bigoted or hateful things toward the gay community. People like Shirvell operate because they feel like, not only are they right, but everyone else agrees with their hatred of a vulnerable community. If it is safe to do so, do the same in public, too.