The first woman to be named majority leader in the Michigan State Senate, Winnie Brinks, is a member of the Christian Reformed Church.
Brinks, 55, represents the city of Grand Rapids in the Michigan legislature’s upper chamber and began her leadership duties in January. A Democrat, she was elected to the Senate four years ago after serving in the state House for six years. In the process, she became the first woman legislator to represent Grand Rapids in the Senate in more than a century.
“It’s just really gratifying for me to be able to be in the position to make a difference in my constituents’ lives, and now as (majority) leader, in the lives of people across the state,” said Brinks, who attends Sherman Street CRC in Grand Rapids. “I think most importantly, being somebody who has been in lots of rooms where my voice has not been heard or valued, being in charge now (allows us) to convene tables full of people whose voices are all important. I know what it’s like to not be listened to.”
Brinks recently supported legislation to expand Michigan’s civil rights protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity, a move that some, including the Michigan Association of Nonpublic Schools and the Michigan Catholic Conference, say goes against religious freedom protections in the U.S. Constitution. Brinks says she sees her role is making sure every person in society is valued.
“Being in a position in government, I really believe that one of our jobs is to ensure that everybody can participate fully in all of the joys and responsibilities of our society,” Brinks said. “For me, extending those protections in things like housing and employment and public services … (even) something as simple as eating in a restaurant, to make sure we are treating everybody fairly and without judgment, is something that’s a high priority for me as a public servant, but it’s also a moral imperative as a person of faith.”
Brinks draws upon the lessons she learned in her formative years in Christian schools for her support of expanded civil rights protections.
“We would read portions of the Bible. The first commandment was to love God. Then the second was to love others. And after that, the phrase would always be ‘on this the whole Law rests.’ To me, what these words really mean, lead me to a position where everybody can have their own opinions about what they believe is right, but in our public life, we need to be able to have communities where everybody is safe, where everybody is free.”
Before becoming an elected official, Brinks was a caseworker for a nonprofit entity helping businesses and nonprofits improve workplaces and retain employees. She also directed a community-based corrections program. She is a graduate of Calvin University with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and concentration in sociology.