Street Talk: GR rates as LGBTQ all-star


A national report released last week lists six Michigan cities, including Grand Rapids, as examples of leading the way on LGBTQ inclusion.

At a time when many states have failed to pass LGBTQ-inclusive laws and policies, cities are stepping up to ensure that all citizens are treated equally, according to a report issued by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization.

In Michigan, six cities earned over 85 points on the 2019 Municipal Equality Index despite hailing from a state without LGBTQ-inclusive statewide nondiscrimination laws. Across the country, 59 cities earned all-star status for LGBTQ inclusiveness with best-practice policies such as local nondiscrimination laws, providing transgender-inclusive health benefits for city employees and offering LGBTQ-inclusive city services, according to HRC.

Ann Arbor, Detroit, East Lansing, Ferndale, Grand Rapids and Lansing each earned the designation. This year, Ann Arbor, Detroit, East Lansing and Ferndale all scored 100, while Grand Rapids netted a score of 92 and Lansing earned an 86.

The average score for cities in Michigan is 74 out of 100 points, which falls above the national average of 60.

“This year’s Municipal Equality Index shows that across the country, city leaders are working tirelessly to ensure that their constituents can secure housing, make a living and participate in community life without being discriminated against because of who they are,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “And the people overwhelmingly agree with these leaders: support for nondiscrimination protections to protect LGBTQ people topped 70%, which includes a majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents. These policies are not only the right thing to do, but they are also critical in driving economic success by attracting residents, visitors and businesses that place a high value on inclusivity.”

“HRC’s MEI serves as a roadmap of the progress made in cities across Michigan toward full equality but also as a reminder of the work still ahead,” said Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan. “Equality Michigan will continue to work with city leaders in communities like Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing and Traverse City to create lasting, positive change for LGBTQ people.”

Road to recovery

A community mental health services provider launched an addiction recovery program for teens.

HealthWest, Muskegon County’s community mental health services program, last month launched SMART Recovery for Teens, which help youth ages 13 and older with addiction recovery.

SMART Recovery is a 12-step program meant to help participants get and stay motivated; cope with urges; self-manage thoughts, feelings and behaviors; and live a balanced life.

Meetings are held 4:30-5:30 p.m. every Tuesday on the third floor of the HealthWest Transition Age Services facility, 131 E. Apple Ave. in Muskegon.

There is no cost to attend meetings.

Recent state data showed more than 21% of Muskegon County high school students surveyed have smoked cigarettes and nearly 40% have drunk alcohol. The data also revealed 8% of surveyed high schoolers reported binge drinking in the past 30 days, and the surveyed teens were on average only 14 years old when they reported being drunk for the first time.

Nearly 15% of surveyed high schoolers reported being offered illegal drugs while on school property in the past year, and nearly 29% reported trying marijuana.

“It’s clear that Muskegon County teens are using drugs, alcohol and tobacco,” said Meaghan Dulin, HealthWest clinical supervisor. “We’re here to provide them with a safe, welcoming space where they can come together to work on changing those behaviors that hurt themselves and others.”

Pilot grounded?

In the latest update regarding the Michigan state budget, the organization overseeing foster care in Kent County has been informed it may need to close by the end of January.

West Michigan Partnership for Children, which was formed in a pilot program to oversee foster care in Kent County, has been told funding will be extended for an additional month, allowing time for the Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to work out a deal when the Legislature returns from recess Dec. 3.

However, if funding is not restored before the Legislature breaks for recess again Dec. 19, WMPC has been informed there will not be an additional reprieve and there will be a full closure date of Jan. 31.

The organization said there are no concerns with a supplemental bill that includes WMPC and other organizations, but there is an issue with tying the bill to language that restricts the governor’s ability to administratively transfer funds.

The nonprofit was established two years ago as a five-year pilot by the state to ensure Kent County children who are removed from their homes because of abandonment, abuse or neglect are placed in safe, family-like settings with culturally responsive and trauma-informed services.

WMPC facilitates foster care contracts from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, administering the work through five agencies: Samaritas, Bethany Christian Services, Wellspring Lutheran Services, Catholic Charities West Michigan and D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s.

WMPC oversees the care of about 850 children.

Among the $600 million administration transfer by Whitmer in early October, $2 million — which accounts for WMPC’s entire administrative budget — was taken from the organization, leading to the threat of closure.

Soul food

A local “self-care superhero” has launched her line of inspirational and encouraging products in a place that’s not surprising — a spa.

Shannon Cohen, principal and founder of consulting firm Shannon Cohen Inc., has entered into a retail partnership with Michelle Pezzato, owner of The Woodhouse Day Spa-Grand Rapids, to sell Cohen’s Tough Skin, Soft Heart brand of inspirational books, greeting cards and other products at Pezzato’s spa.

The spa is located at 2060 East Beltline Ave. NE in the Village at Knapp’s Crossing.

Cohen said she feels the move illustrates “the power of the pack” — i.e., the entrepreneurial success that can come from female empowerment networking spaces and women supporting women in business, as chronicled by Forbes magazine and others.

“Michelle and I met at an Inforum event,” Cohen said. “We grew our relationship over the course of the year, and this … partnership is indicative of the future of the ‘connection economy’ culture.”

In addition, Cohen said she believes her ability to add yet another retail vendor to the 28-plus she currently has for her merchandise is evidence of the increasing focus on self-care to promote mental health.

“Mental health continues to rise as one of the most important conversations in the future of work. According to a Gallup study, 8 out of 10 Americans right now are stressed due to crisis, risk and disruption,” Cohen said.

“Our partnership is not just a ‘good for business’ move but a response to the increasing need we all have for inspiration, encouragement and ‘food for the soul.’”

Cohen and Pezzato are marketing the products to spa customers as “carryout food for the soul.”

“The products contain messaging to keep the experience of taking time for yourself to the next level,” Cohen said. “Tough Skin, Soft Heart amplifies the spa experience with portable gifts and goods that foster a continual focus on inner healing, peace, resilience and renewal.”

More information about Cohen’s Tough Skin, Soft Heart line is available at

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