By any measure, LZ Granderson is a very successful man.
He’s an award-winning journalist, a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine
, and a CNN contributor who appears regularly on air and writes a weekly column for CNN.com
Granderson presented at TEDxGrandRapids
in June and is listed on the national TED site.
He’s also a dad, and this proud father says his 15-year-old son Isaiah is “a total rock star” -- he’s on the Mayor’s Youth Council and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s Youth Grant Committee, plus he made the All-Conference track team, too.
“We’re very close, and I love him to bits and pieces,” Granderson adds.
He’s in a committed, happy relationship. He’s smart and athletic. And he knows a whole lot about politics and sports.
Sounds like the perfect life, right? It’s close, but as long as Granderson lives in Michigan, there are two things he cannot do: get married to his partner Steve Huesing or adopt a child with his partner.
Yes, Granderson is gay. And neither gay marriage nor adoption by homosexual couples is legal here in the mitten state.
So why not move to another state where these two rights are legal?
Quite simply, this 40-year-old Detroit native enjoys living here. He likes the four seasons, the sports teams, and the family and friends who also call this place home.
“I shouldn’t have to leave home to be treated like a human being,” he says.
Not only is Granderson gay, he’s also black. And a Christian.
Gay. Black. Christian. Let that sink in for a minute.
Granderson grew up going to church and even tried to “pray away” being gay at one point -- an effort that obviously didn’t work. He knows many Christians believe being gay is a sin, but that doesn’t matter to him.
“I’m comfortable with worshipping God,” he says.
Granderson believes more in the “skeleton of Christianity” and less in the literal interpretation of the Bible.
“I don’t believe Jonah was swallowed by a whale,” he says, for example.
To him, being a Christian means loving your neighbor and being patient, kind, and giving -- and that’s exactly how he tries to live his life.
The Christian viewpoint that marriage should only be between a man and a woman doesn’t sit well with Granderson though.
On Facebook he lists himself as being married, but he’s not legally married yet because it’s illegal in the State of Michigan.
Granderson and Huesing have been together for three or four years. He’s not quite sure how long because he says, “After two years, it’s all a blur!”
They met at the gay hangout, Diversions, while Granderson was there with a group of students one night.
“I hit on him and it didn’t take,” he says. “He thought I was straight.”
So Granderson hit on him again. And again.
“Between the alcohol and time, it finally took,” he says, laughing at how much effort it was to connect with his partner.
They exchanged information and Huesing asked him out the next night. The couple has been together ever since.
Huesing, who is two years older than Granderson, is white. Sometimes there are cultural differences between them for this reason -- especially when Granderson’s mother makes collard greens several nights in a row. She lives with the couple and let’s just say that Huesing could easily live without this leafy green vegetable.
Since they cannot get legally married, the couple doesn’t have all of the same rights as married heterosexual couples.
Granderson says there are “1,000 plus laws we don’t have access to as a couple.”
They paid lawyers “for fancy paperwork” so they could visit each other in the hospital should one of them get sick -- a right that is not automatic to LGBT couples. Lawyers created a legal will for them as well.
And then there are what Granderson calls the “gay taxes.”
“We pay more taxes because we’re gay,” he says. “We’ve accepted this begrudgingly.”
At one point in his life, Granderson was married and that’s how he came to have a son. He got married at age 21 and divorced at 25.
He shares that coming out as a gay man was a long process and his ex-wife went through that journey with him. He wrestled with it for quite a while and says, “I tried everything else in life except embrace it.”
Now that Granderson and Huesing are married -- despite their union not being legal in this state -- adopting a child is a possible consideration.
However, like gay marriage, adoptions by homosexual couples are also illegal here. Granderson finds this truly disappointing, especially since there are so many kids who need a home. Not to mention, his “rock star” son Isaiah, of whom he has custody, is the perfect proof that gay men can successfully raise a child.
“The State says ‘that’s great,’ but you’re not qualified to be a parent,” he says. “That’s frustrating. People who don’t know me tell me I’m not fit to be a parent.”
Granderson knows he could adopt from another state if he chose to, but the frequent visits could get expensive.
“If being heterosexual doesn’t guarantee you won’t be a great parent, being gay doesn’t mean you won’t,” he says.
Then he laughs and cites heterosexual parenting examples such as the Octomom and the Tan Mom.
With the presidential election coming up November 6, Granderson is following politics closely. He predicts President Obama will win, but cautions that “so much could happen between now and then.”
The October jobs report comes out on November 2, and that may affect the outcome of the race.
“If the jobs report is favorable, then it will be difficult for Romney to say the policies have failed," Granderson says. “If it’s negative, then it’s open.”
He will be voting for Obama, but admits he’s “a huge Jon Huntsman fan” and likes his views on foreign policy.
Granderson was hoping Huntsman would run as a third-party candidate, but since that’s not happening, he says, “Between the two choices, for me and my house, the President is the choice.”
President Obama has made a lot of policy decisions the didn’t agree with or that he thought were political. For example, Granderson thought the President could have ended the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law earlier. However, he thinks Obama’s recent show of support for marriage equality needs to be applauded and says it’s “not easy for a president to take a stance on a controversial issue -- it could cost him votes.”
But, he adds, “There’s a difference between support and pushing for legislation.”
Granderson won’t be completely happy until there are federal laws in support of gay marriage and gay rights.
“I need laws passed,” he says. “I didn’t hear that and I don’t think I’ll hear that.”
Ideally, Granderson would like to see the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) abandoned and replaced with the Respect for Marriage Act (RMA). RMA repeals DOMA and gives rights to lawfully married same-sex couples so they can receive the benefits of marriage under federal law.
President Obama has already asked the Supreme Court Justices to stop defending DOMA, which Granderson believes is a step in the right direction.
He is also a bit frustrated that when Democrats controlled Congress, they didn’t pass the Employee Non Discrimination Act (ENDA), which makes it illegal to fire LGBT employees because of their sexual orientation.
“If Democrats truly advocate for us, ENDA could have been addressed,” he says.
Granderson believes we need a federal approach to gay rights instead of wasting municipality and state resources to fight these battles.
If President Obama gets re-elected and Congress is mostly Democratic, he’s hopeful for the future. If Governor Romney wins, not so much.
“Roe v. Wade is in danger and everything that has benefitted LGBT is in danger,” he says. “Big Bird is cobbled, too -- he’s done.”
One thing is for certain, Granderson will be following politics closely in the days leading up to the election.
This gay, black Christian man will also continue to enjoy life as a loyal partner to Steve, a proud father to Isaiah, and as an award-winning journalist who shares his thoughts with the world.
As written on his Facebook page, “Boxes are for shoes, not people.”
Heidi Stukkie is our Do Good editor and a freelance writer, graphic designer and marketing consultant. She is currently finishing her B.A. in Professional Writing and Journalism at Grand Valley State University. She advises everyone to finish college when young because doing it in your forties is not nearly as glamorous as it sounds. Heidi is slightly obsessed with the news and not much happens in the world she’s not aware of. You can find her on Twitter at @HeidiSocial.
Photographs by Adam Bird