By AJ Trager
MICHIGAN – Mark LaChey, chair of the LGBT&A Caucus, recently spoke about the positive change the caucus is making within the Democratic Party and Michigan. LaChey, an attorney from Saugatuck, has an extensive political background consisting of 14 years as a City Commissioner for Pleasant Ridge, work with Triangle (now Equality Michigan), continual volunteering, service as policy director in 2010 and work as a precinct delegate of the Oakland City Democratic Party. He took over the caucus in February 2013 after the previous chair decided not to run for re-election.
“It was exciting. I had stickers and things,” LaChey laughed. “I had a lot of people supporting taking the caucus to a greater role within the party.”
Within its mission statement, the caucus defines three things as its main focus: to provide Michigan’s LGBT community with a focused and enhanced voice in all aspects of the decision-making process of the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP), to increase the LGBT community’s participation in the electoral and party process at all levels (including the recruitment and election of openly LGBT and allied candidates) and to enrich and better the lives of the LGBT&A Michiganders, especially in terms of full legal activity.
The vision is to marshal LGBT people and Democrats within the Michigan community at large towards raising the caucus’ profile in the state party. This election, along with the work that the caucus and the Michigan LGBT community have both done, has paved the way for real change within Lansing.
“This is the first election cycle where I am unaware of a single Democratic candidate that isn’t openly pro-equality,” LaChey said. “We had candidates as recently as 2012 that would not come out and say they were in favor of marriage equality. And that was one of the key components (of this year) was to ensure that our candidates, just as they were pro-workers’ rights and women, they were also for LGBT equality. I am very confident we have accomplished that.”
The Michigan Democratic Party’s Nominating Convention was held in August, and the LGBT&A Caucus had a big role within the convention’s events. Lead policy makers like Sen. Debbie Stabenow, U.S. House Rep. Sandy Levin, Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer and Dave Coulter, the Mayor of Ferndale, came out to show their support for the LGBT community and spoke on how they will work towards assuring Michigan becomes an LGBT equality state, raising the profile of the LGBT community and the political agenda.
Michigan has two openly gay candidates in the upcoming November election. Jeremy Moss is running for State Rep. in the 35th District, including Southfield, Lathrup Village and parts of Southfield Township. Jon Hoadley is running for State Rep. in the 60th District, including Kalamazoo and parts of Kalamazoo Township. LaChey believes that they are nearly guaranteed to be elected.
“I want the caucus to become a force so that it is never again acceptable to use somebody’s LGBT status as a negative for candidacy. I heard rumors of that when candidates were being selected in primaries, or suggested not to run, there were some choices made and discussions had, on whether districts would be favorable for LGBT candidacy. We are working hard so that LGBTs are comfortable running in the state of Michigan, and (working for) the promotion of the trans community – the T in the LGBT, in the Democratic Party,” LaChey said.
Since LaChey took over as chair, the caucus has been working hard at collecting and maintaining a ready database pool of LGBT voters and those that care about politics. LaChey says the group started at ground zero.
“One of the requests that was thrown in the caucus was to go from membership building or supporting specific candidates and instead support the party and coordinate a campaign. I, as chair, sit at the highest level of the state apparatus and there are no other caucuses represented at the stakeholder table,” LaChey pressed.
He says that even though there there are women and African Americans at the stakeholder table, it is primarily the unions and the trial lawyers, plus elected officials, who hold the seats.
“We have helped our community at large. People take my phone calls now. But it’s not about me. I represent the LGBT community within the party. Raising the profile of the importance of the LGBT community is the greatest thing we’ve done.”
Although the caucus is part of the Democratic Party, Michiganders from any political party are encouraged to attend meetings and work towards making Michigan a pro-equality state; membership within the party is required for voting.
For Michigan residents who want to help LGBT people make a political mark this election season, LaChey suggests joining the LGBT&A Caucus Facebook page, spreading the word to friends and family members, going to a coordinated campaign office or midems.com and signing up to volunteer. LaChey also urges all to vote on Nov. 4 and donate to a pro-LGBT candidate.
“We need to grow our membership. Best way to do that is to be successful in November. I think people will take us more seriously,” LaChey says. “We met with State House Leadership following the primary (election) and looked at tea party candidates – narrowing it down to four anti-gay candidates that we need to beat out.”
“Making a dent,” he said, “is a positive thing.”