Queering The House

By |2015-06-04T09:00:00-04:00June 4th, 2015|Michigan, News|

State House Reps. Jeremy Moss and Jon Hoadley assumed office in January. BTL photo: Rita Deibler

LANSING – Every Michigander is given 525,600 minutes to experience the mitten state each year. Some use that time to garden or advocate for better environmental practices to keep the state clean from pollution. Some use that time to crochet or make craft beer. But only a select few choose to shoot for an elected position.
State House Reps. Jeremy Moss and Jon Hoadley assumed office in January. Together with their peers in Lansing, the two are working towards a more inclusive “Pure Michigan.”
But how do two men, in a 110 seat lawmaking body, drive the change necessary to bring equality more quickly?
For Mark LaChey, chair of the LGBT Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party and member of the Victory Fund, the drive comes from who they are and the conversations they actively engage in while amongst the bigger body of government.
“Having Jon and Jeremy is a huge boost to the LGBT community here in Michigan. I’ve watched them since they’ve taken office and I believe they both are, first and foremost, state reps for their districts and the entire constituency. But they certainly are openly gay and a touchstone for our community to look at and be proud of,” LaChey said. “Their elections were on the short list of success stories for last November’s election.”
Michigan has had other LGBT identified state representatives. James K. Dressel, a Vietnam Veteran and active Air National Guard until his death in 1992, served as a state representative during the late 70s and early 80s. While elected, Dressel pursued amendments to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, the state civil rights law, and received continuous push back for not disclosing his sexuality when he ran for office. After losing to a Republican candidate in 1984, Dressel was more open about his sexual orientation and became active in advocating for civil rights protections for gay and lesbian people.
In 2000 Chris Kolb, former Ann Arbor City Councilman and mayor pro tem from 1994-2000, was elected as Michigan’s first openly gay state representative. He served six years on the Michigan House, advocated for environmental legislation and attempted to add sexual orientation to the list of characteristics covered under the state’s Ethnic Intimidation Act.
Seated in the 97th Michigan House of Representatives, Moss represents the 35th District, including Southfield, and Hoadley represents the 60th District of Kalamazoo. Neither area is a bastion of LGBT populations, like Ferndale or Saugatuck.
Hoadley and Moss provide more than just LGBT representation on the House floor. Moss serves as assistant floor leader and Hoadley is deputy finance chair. These leadership positions allow them to have a strong voice on intersectional topics.
“Separately, they are both smart as a whip,” LaChey said. “They don’t just have a seat at the table, but a seat in leadership, which is big for our community, Democrats and for progressives.”
When the House was considering the three discriminatory adoption bills, Hoadley gave an impassioned speech from the podium.
“We bring the full package when it comes to trying to be the most effective lawmakers in Michigan, and (we) also happen to be gay,” Moss said.
The two are part of a unique group of 10 openly gay elected officials in the state, says the Victory Fund — a D.C. based LGBT organization dedicated to training and supporting out LGBT candidates for campaigns and elective offices.
Currently, there are over 500,000 elected officials serving in some capacity in the U.S. According to the Victory Fund, there are 466 openly LGBT people among those elected officials. That’s less than one thousandth of a percent. The Williams Institute, located in California, reports that about 9 million American adults identify as LGBT — about the population of New Jersey.
“It is important for LGBTQ leaders to be on the frontlines when policy decisions are made,” says Sommer Foster, policy director at Equality Michigan. “Who better to have in the halls of the legislature and the executive mansion than someone who can tell the story of what it is like to be LGBTQ in the state of Michigan? When LGBTQ leaders are elected to public office, they are often able to build trusting relationships and break down barriers with people who don’t see the impact legislation can have on our community.”
Both Hoadley and Moss agree that’s an accurate assessment of what happens when they are in the room.
Earlier this year, Republican lawmaker Al Pscholka used the phrase “fruits and nuts” during a floor debate on regulations related to chair lifts for the disabled. The comments resulted in instant backlash, as they were seen as anti-LGBT. Pscholka apologized to Moss through the media. Another lawmaker, Moss says, approached him and apologized for having laughed at the joke — realizing only after he had laughed how unacceptable that was.
Another incident occurred when the Michigan House approved legislation which would codify religious based discrimination from adoption agencies.
“We have a few folks who need to come out of the closet,” Moss said.
“As allies,” chimed in Hoadley.
“I had people coming up to me after the vote and apologizing,” says Moss. “Apologizing for voting for the adoption bills. You could see the pain in their eyes, but they couldn’t vote against the leadership.”
Early in their elective lives, the two men talked earnestly about creating an LGBT Equality Caucus in the legislature. Such caucuses are key issue moving bodies, focusing on issues like the environment. Others serve more as place keepers and political statements.
They didn’t want an LGBT caucus to be a place keeper. They want it to be a real body, driving change.
They have a year and a half until they run as incumbents for office in 2016. Michigan can expect both representatives to critique more legislation and continue to fight for LGBT equality in the state.
“Stay tuned,” Hoadley said.

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