When Mark LaChey went to North Carolina to serve as a delegate for the Democratic National Convention, he was struck by the warm welcome he and other LGBT people received. He and over 500 others were invited from across the country to discuss their issues, and the mood was “like the LGBT family was part of the Democratic party. We were there. Like women. Like Hispanics. Like Asians. We weren’t just a small interest, we were part of things,” he said.
This contrasted with LaChey’s experience in Michigan. “The Democratic party took the LGBT community for granted that we would always vote Democratic. Elected officials in our state were afraid to take on gay issues like Elliott Larsen and second parent adoption. One recent example was including enumeration in bullying legislation. We did not have enough of a place at the table. I want what we have nationally to happen here.”
That’s why LaChey decided to run for chair of the LGBT and Allies Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party. He successfully took over the caucus on Feb. 23 with three fellow activists taking on Vice Chair positions.
Jan Stevenson of Farmington Hills, co-publisher of Between The Lines, was voted first vice chair. Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter became second vice chair, and Garnet Lewis, a Democratic Party recruiter and Saginaw area politician, got the third vice chair position.
“In asking people to run for vice chair it was important for me to find diversity in the vice chairs. We’ve got four separate Congressional districts represented. All four of us have known each other beforehand, so we know we can work together. They’re all people who can get things done.
“As the caucus, in many ways we’re starting from scratch. It hasn’t been active. I want to increase the membership of the caucus. We have begun to assemble our membership list, and we have a series of meet and greets that we’re working on for 2013.
“Our goal is electing pro-LGBT candidates statewide. The ultimate goal is to elect pro LGBT leaders. We are not engaged in policy. We are all about finding, funding and supporting pro-LGBT candidates,” LeChay said.
The work has already begun, and news of more LGBT people in positions of power is giving the group momentum. Recently six LGBT people were named members of the MDP’s policy-making body, its executive committee: Mark LaChey, Dave Coulter, Nancy Katz, Toni Sessoms, Jon Hoadley and Christy Jense. These were elected as part of the Unity Slate proposed by MDP Chair Lon Johnson at the Democratic State Central Committee meeting. Traditionally there is only one LGBT slot on the Committee.
Being a member of the Democratic Party is not a requirement to be part of the caucus, and allies are welcome to get involved too. LaChay hopes to attract a more diverse group of participants as the organization grows.
Coulter and other members share LaChay’s vision. “We have a mix of people by region and sex, and each person brings a unique perspective to our work. We need greater representation from people of color and others, but it’s a great start,” Coulter said. “The caucus is critical to making sure the voices of LGBT residents are heard in the Democratic Party. Although the Democratic platform is extremely supportive of LGBT issues, especially as compared to the intolerant language of the Republicans, it’s still important for us to help make these promises real and not let them simply be words on paper. We need to hold the party accountable for making tangible progress.”
The Ferndale mayor said LaChey is “the glue that is making this work possible.”
LaChey has been active in politics for many years. He was a board member of the Triangle Action Fund and was chair of the board when Triangle merged with Michigan Equality to become Equality Michigan. He served for 14 years on the Pleasant Ridge City Commission, is a member of the Victory Fund Campaign Board and a member of the Stonewall Bar Association. When he’s not fighting for equality and community, LaChey pays the bills as an attorney handling litigation for companies in product liabilities cases. His partner, Bryan Hoffman, is the former president of the board of Ruth Ellis Center. Together they live in Saugatuck where they care for two dogs and one cat.
“Mark is an inclusive leader who pushes and prods in a way that keep us motivated,” Coulter said. “I think he has the potential to really make this caucus a force in state politics, and I’m just happy to support him.”
For more information on the Caucus, “like” them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheLGBTACaucusoftheMDP.