Vote gay Muslim Buddhist, for Christ’s sake

Politics & Prejudices

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Brian Stone
Brian Stone Photo/Facebook

Brian Stone is a gay Buddhist veteran of the U.S. Navy, who is depending on the good Muslim voters of Dearborn to help elect him to the legislature this year.

Just a typical guy, in other words. Well, he is a little different in two ways from most politicians. He really seems to care about people, and he has the guts to speak out.

But regardless, he might win. Longtime readers of this column may remember him from a Feb. 4, 2015, piece about his battle against Sharia law in his native Dearborn.

Actually, make that his battle against lies told about Sharia law. For years, Republican politicians in other states, including Sharron Angle (once again running for the U.S. Senate in Nevada) have claimed that Dearborn was an Islamic hellhole ruled by Sharia law. Never mind that there are seven times more churches than mosques in Dearborn, or that the mayor is an Irish-American named Jack O'Reilly.

Truth doesn't matter much in the tea party. Back then, Stone was finishing up a journalism degree (poor baby) at the University of Michigan-Dearborn after a hitch as a communications officer in the U.S. Navy.

The way he got into the Navy was interesting. He was a 21-year-old kid working in a fancy resort in Florida back in 2008,when a group of corporate executives threw themselves the most disgustingly opulent and expensive party imaginable.

He remembers being appalled by the excess — and even more appalled when the next week their company, the New York investment firm Bear Stearns, declared bankruptcy, stiffing a lot of people who had paid for their last sybaritic orgy.

Appalled, and wanting to do something for his country as sort of an antidote to the corporate pigs, Stone joined the Navy. To his surprise, he liked it. "I might have stayed in longer if it hadn't been for 'don't ask, don't tell,'" the Clinton-era halfway solution to giving gay Americans equal rights.

They made him a communications officer, a job he loved. When he came out, getting a journalism degree seemed an obvious path to follow. But the bottom was falling out of the journalism market then, thanks to the Internet.

Besides, he wanted to really accomplish something. A journalist might have written a story or column about the outrageous claim that Dearborn was under Sharia law.

Stone instead ran around town with a camera, a friend, and a homemade sign saying "Dearborn Sharia law!"

He took pictures of his buddy and the sign in front of a strip club, a HoneyBaked Ham outlet, and a Roman Catholic school, and posted them on the Internet.

That, I thought, was cool. I was also impressed that Stone didn't post pictures of himself, but of his buddy, who he thought was more photogenic. However, after that, Brian did decide to run for state representative in his native Dearborn.

I was a trifle surprised by that, so I got together again with him the other day. "Why would you want to do this?" I asked.

First of all — how did he expect to win? There are a growing number of Muslim voters in Dearborn, and the popular wisdom is that they aren't noted for their openness toward openly gay candidates. What's more, at least one of his four Democratic primary opponents, Abdullah Hammoud, is Muslim.

Stone smiled, as did the intern he brought to our meeting, Sadallah Farah. "I'm the only candidate in this race who has stood up and called out Islamophobia in Dearborn," he said, noting that he used to write a column on Arab and Muslim American issues for The Huffington Post.

He's been pro-Muslim, he told me, since he had the guts to come out as gay in high school. The one guy who stood up for him was named Mohammed. "It was hell — but it dawned on me I'd never heard a word against me from a Muslim."

He thinks that was because "they were too busy defending their community of Americans from the same people that wanted to keep me from having equal rights."

Stone doesn't do things halfway; he's been running full-time for the job almost all year, going door to door in his somewhat battered blue 2009 Ford Focus.

Back when the car industry was fighting for its survival, Brian decided to show his Dearborn patriotism by buying Ford stock. The auto industry has come roaring back, and he's been selling off that stock to allow him to live and run for office.

Winning the Aug. 2 primary in his safe Democratic district should ensure his election. But once again, I asked him: Why? Republicans may well still control the state House of Representatives. They are certain to hang on to the governorship and state Senate for at least the next two years.

Stone says his top issues are infrastructure — especially underground ­— education funding, and business development in Dearborn, and other places like it. Additionally, he has uncovered what he believes is a major scam; banks renaming themselves "debt forwarding agencies" and putting legitimate debt collection firms out of business by underhanded practices.

The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled against the banks, but Stone says Attorney General Bill Schuette is dragging his feet and refusing to prosecute.

He intends to hold Schuette's feet to the fire.

But how does he expect to get any of that done in an overwhelmingly Republican universe?

He smiled. "Back in the Navy, there was always tons of money for military hardware — and never enough for the supplies we needed. I became a master at getting them."

He did this, he told me, by being cheerfully persistent and annoying, and usually got his way when those he had to deal with realized that would be easiest for them.

Now that he is an experienced old man of 29, he thinks he'd be even better at it. Stone may be a trifle optimistic about dealing with Lansing, but given the current climate of gloom, that may not be a bad thing. These days, I'd say we need all the gay Muslim-loving Buddhists we can get in the legislature.

You just know they'd have to be an improvement.

Pissing in the wind Robert Wittenberg, a freshman state representative from Oak Park, introduced a common-sense bill the other day designed to put a small dent in our endless procession of handgun murders.

Believe it or not, there are a few people who aren't allowed to buy and carry guns — primarily convicted felons, those involved in domestic violence, or who have serious and potentially dangerous mental illnesses.

Wittenberg would like to require local gun boards to notify law enforcement authorities if someone in one of these groups tries to get a pistol permit, since they are unlikely to be doing so unless they have something bad in mind.

That makes so much sense and ought to be so non-controversial you just knew the gun fanatics would instantly oppose it. Sure enough, one Steve Dulan, who said he was on the board of the misnamed "Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners," immediately opposed the bill, saying it wasn't "narrowly crafted enough." Which, of course, was bullshit.

His comment was very revealing, however: Gun rights extremists always say we need to go after the criminal, not the weapon, which is what Wittenberg's bill would do.

The truth is, however, that the National Rifle Association and their ilk would oppose a bill that would prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from buying another mail-order Mannlicher-Carcano rifle if he were to come back from the dead.

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