MDP Elects Openly Gay Vice Chair for First Time In Its History

Kate Opalewski
By | 2017-03-02T09:00:00-04:00 March 2nd, 2017|Michigan, News|

At the Michigan Democratic Convention on Feb. 11 at Cobo Hall, not only was Mark LaChey reelected as the chair of the LGBT & Allies Caucus, but for the first time in its history, the Michigan Democratic Party elected him, an openly gay Vice Chair.
This recognized Caucus within the MDP is composed of members of the LGBT&A community in Michigan who are registered Democrats. These progressive-thinking people are committed to the advancement of candidates and legislative issues which are of particular significance to the LGBT&A community.
LaChey has been a litigation attorney for more than three decades having maintained his solo practice first in Royal Oak and now Saugatuck for the past 22 years. He was one of Michigan’s first attorneys to accept LGBT clients starting in the mid-1980’s. He has participated for more than 20 years in Democratic politics at various levels from local club and county organizations through congressional districts and the statewide party.
LaChey has served as an elected delegate to MDP’s State Central Committee, its main governing body, for the past 10 years, as well as an appointed member of its Executive Committee for the past four years.
LaChey spoke with BTL about his reelection to the LGBT&A Caucus, what his new role involves, and how he plans to overcome challenges ahead for the LGBT community.

What does this means for the LGBTQ community?
First and foremost, it’s a significant accomplishment for Michigan’s LGBTQ Democrats. It shows recognition by key state Democratic players that we have not just earned a seat at the table, but also the right to have a key leadership role in the party. It should also be mentioned that this nomination and my unanimous election by the convention’s attendees demonstrates both a recognition of the enhanced engagement of our community during the several past election cycles but also that our community’s votes and contributions of time and money are not being taken for granted. In short, this represents both a “thank you” as well as an incentive to keep up our efforts as we move toward the vitally important elections in 2018.

Discuss your responsibilities as Vice Chair.
There are no specific duties or responsibilities spelled out for a Vice Chair in the Party’s bylaws or elsewhere. So while I have some freedom to make its role whatever I want, my present intentions are primarily twofold: first, to bolster and continue the Democrats’ support of the LGBTQ community. I want to use my enhanced bully pulpit to keep talking to the leaders of the Democratic party, both elected and behind the scenes, to make sure that the issues and concerns of LGBTQ Michiganders remain “on the front burner”. Secondly, a lesson learned from the 2016 election was that every vote across Michigan must count equally and that voters from all corners of our state should get equal attention regardless of gender, race or ethnic background, sexual orientation or gender identity and perhaps most importantly, their geographic location. Especially now that I live on the west side of the Michigan rather than Southeast Oakland County, one of my tasks is to do whatever I can to make sure that resources, both from the MDP as well as the state and federal Democratic campaign committees, get spread further out into the state of Michigan including both the lower and upper peninsulas. This will, in turn, help LGBTQ residents who don’t happen to live in a bastion of gayness in Southeast Michigan, and often feel ignored. Lastly and related to both of the above, I publicly pledged at the MDP convention that I will go anywhere in the state of Michigan to attend a county, congressional district or club event on behalf of the Party. I am excited to hop in my truck and go wherever to meet and talk with my fellow Democrats (and Democrats-to-be) and have already one such event under my belt. And in so doing, I do not leave my “gayness” behind.

What has been accomplished since you came on board four years ago as Chair of the LGBT&A Caucus?
As recently as 2012, we had Democratic candidates in Michigan who were not openly pro-equality (such as not being willing to openly endorse amending Michigan’s ELCRA to add sexual orientation and gender identity). I’m very proud to say that in 2014 and again in 2016, I’m unaware of a single Democratic candidate for state House or higher that was not fully and openly in favor of full LGBTQ equality at either the state or federal level. So that’s a major step. While our Caucus does not possess an actual veto over a particular candidate, we do have our foot in the door to insure that our supported candidates will support our issues once elected. Additionally, four years ago, we had no elected openly-gay legislators in Lansing. I’m very proud to say now we have three (Tim Sneller, Jeremy Moss and Jon Hoadley) serving in our state house. Was the Caucus directly responsible for that? No. But we did help recruit, finance, and otherwise support these three candidates along with, at least, three others who were unfortunately not successful in their bids. The Caucus provides a vehicle to promote these folks and our allies as candidates to our LGBTQ Community both here in Michigan and nationally. Moreover, I continue to work with other constituencies and stakeholders both within the Democratic Party and otherwise on behalf of candidates who share common issues. This is significant because in addition to what could be considered core LGBTQ issues, our community is also part of the larger world with concerns about affordable, available and adequate health care, a good environment, accessable education and jobs that provide a living wage. So partnering with Labor, other minorities, conservation groups and others to help elect mutually supportive candidates is a win-win. Lastly, I am proud of the success of our Caucus Facebook page. Although the Caucus doesn’t presently have a formal membership structure or collect dues, the popularity of this page by the number of its followers and the level of its activity is one indication of people paying attention to the LGBT&A Caucus and what we’re doing.

When reflecting on the past four years, have there been any surprises?
There has been ups and downs. Previously, a sizable chunk of our LGBTQ community felt disengaged or felt comfortable that they did not need to be involved in the political process – either because life was okay for them or because they thought politics just wouldn’t respond to them. I think after this election I’ve been really gratified at the
overall increase of people saying “oh no, this is not acceptable”. Especially with respect
to people in the LGBTQ Community now being “woke” and recognizing that our rights are at risk and that we need to do something about it. I am gratified and proud to say that when Michigan’s LGBTQ community has specific issues that are important to them such as marriage equality, they do show up to vote. This especially was evident in our community’s disproportionately high turn-out in 2014 when marriage equality was still at issue, and I am optimistic that our community will be similarly motivated in 2018.

Are there challenges you see ahead for the Caucus?
There’s a lot of energy both in our community and more generally that needs to be responded to and put to good use. So a part of the challenge over the my next two years is to first educate folks as to what the Caucus (and Party) does in terms of finding and electing good Progressive candidates to our legislature, statewide offices and Congress rather than direct issue advocacy and also to find ways to increase the presence of and information available to LGBTQ Michiganders whether it be through our Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter or an enhanced web page, for example. As with everyone, members of our community are busy in their own lives – school or work or caring for kids or elders – and sometimes they need to have some particularly egregious issue thrown in their face to say “hey, wake up” with suggestions of who or what can be done about it. For example, our community is now aware that marriage equality, which they all thought was great when it passed, might be at risk again. That it is not guaranteed and I think that gives a lot of concern. But I think we are also awakening to the reality that there is a lot of issues other than marriage equality – either ancillary to that or completely separate – that have not yet been addressed or could be at risk of being rolled back. Channeling that new energy and motivation toward preserving what our community has gained and hopefully moving forward toward full equality over the next two and four years will be, perhaps, the ultimate challenge for myself and others in both the Caucus and Democratic leadership.

How can people get involved with or help the Caucus?
First, “like” the Caucus’s Facebook page @TheLGBTACaucusoftheMDP. That is an indication not only of how much support we have, but it provides them with a significant amount of information, and not just about LGBTQ issues. Separately, I would ask them to join the Michigan Democratic Party, and in order to get recognized as an openly LGBTQ member, we suggest you join at No extra money goes to the Caucus, but it does register you as an LGBTQ person with the state party so that we (and they) can track our strength as Democrats. We are the first constituency group to do this and I’m kind of proud of that. Then consider joining and attending a local club, county or congressional district meeting or event. Separately, the MDP raises money through its fundraising dinners and the LGBT&A Caucus has had multiple tables at each event over the past four years and will again this year at the Legacy Dinner in April at Cobo and then this Fall in Grand Rapids. Equally important: find out who’s running for offices near you, do your research. Let us know if you need some guidance about who’s pro-LGBTQ, who’s viable and who has a chance of winning. Then volunteer as often as you can for candidates from school board and city council to governor and U.S. Senate. All of the will need and appreciate help with hosting events, making phone calls and knocking on doors – and be sure to let those candidates know you’re LGBTQ. Politics 101 – elected officials respond to those people who help them get where they are. Some people look at that as a dirty word when it’s donations from big corporations, but it’s also the $25 from 1,000 people or a bunch of us showing up at a campaign headquarters on a Saturday morning to stuff envelopes, take a phone bank shift or walk a neighborhood. This is how we’ll ensure that our issues remain in the forefront and that we’re not taken for granted or ignored.

About the Author:

Kate Opalewski
Kate Opalewski is BTL's features editor and has been since 2015. She has covered a variety of topics ranging from art, politics and community outreach. Recently, she was honored by the Detroit Police Department LGBT Advisory Board for her work for the local LGBTQIA community.