Though morning rains may have scared some away, the sun was shining directly on the Michigan Capitol Wednesday afternoon for the Protecting Democracy: Rally for Full Equality.
Booted to the building’s back steps by some beautiful beasts and a scheduling snafu with the Michigan Horse Council’s Equine Legislative Day celebration, which occupied the front of the Capitol, an enthusiastic crowd of about 75 showed up for the rally. Those who did were treated to powerful speeches by more than a dozen speakers, many of whom mentioned the heinous efforts to have queer-related books banned from Michigan schools by uninformed and anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups such as Moms for Liberty.
The rally was put on by Equality Michigan, the Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network and Inclusive Justice (IJ) in memory of the late Michigan trailblazer Jim Toy. Toy was a co-founder of Inclusive Justice and many other groups, and his spirit was invoked at the start of the gathering.
“The issues you’re going to hear about today were near and dear to his heart,” said Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow, IJ president and senior pastor and teacher at Metropolitan Community Church – Detroit (MCC-D), one of rally’s co-lead organizers. “We need his courage to stand up for democracy because we recognize that democracy, not only in the state of Michigan, but across these United States, is at risk. … There are forces that want to turn the talk back and want to silence people. Rev. Joe Summers, who serves as rector of the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Ann Arbor, was also a featured speaker.
Rev. Manish Mishra-Marzetti, senior minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor, was the first to bring up the danger of book bans in the invocation he offered. In a list of threats to democracy today, Mishra-Marzetti called out “the indignities that are ravaging our culture and nation” including threats to marriage equality, the very right of our trans community to exist and “the efforts to ban books that speak to gender identity, sexual orientation and racial justice, simply because some do not like the ideas expressed in those books.”
John Austin is the former president of the Michigan Board of Education. He lamented about the status of progressive affairs and attacks on education in the state.
“Here in Michigan, home to Betsy DeVos, there’s an aggressive push to dismantle public education and to purge libraries of different points of view,” he said. “Destroying public schools and public education is an assault on our very democracy and freedom of thought and action.”
Elizabeth Horton Pulaski teaches 5th grade for Wolverine Intermediate Schools. “As a teacher, this terrifies me,” she said, picking up right where Austin left off. “It is reminiscent of Germany in 1933, when anything considered anti-German was collected and burned. We must stop this from happening. If education is censored, democracy will die.”
S’Niya Tate, a student at Grand Valley State University who identifies as trans, said that books for and about queer kids are important and help LGBTQ+ teens to “know that what they’re experiencing is 100 percent normal, there’s nothing wrong with them, they aren’t an abomination or have a disease that needs to be cured.”
Michiganders are lucky, at the moment, to have liberal leaders at the top of state government. Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, a fixture at Pride celebrations across the state this past June, spoke directly to queer progressives.
“What all of you represent is the best of the state of Michigan, and it’s our job to ensure that no bigot, no homophobe, no transphobic person, no hater of humanity, is empowered to stand between you and your rights, your justice, your authentic self and your place in our communities.”
The rally finished as it started, with fiery remarks from Stringfellow. He spoke to those who are today calling themselves “patriots,” saying that patriotism and democracy “is not fighting against people and silencing others. But how you can give people a voice and the right simply to be. That is what we’re fighting for here today.”
Additional speakers included Bishop Bonnie Perry of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, Attorney Jay Kaplan of the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project, Michigan Equality Executive Director Erin Knott, State Sen. Jeremy Moss, State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, Rabbi David Polsky of Southfield and Elder Leslie Mathews of Michigan United.
Jade Chaos Kruse came all the way from Sterling Heights to attend the rally and said she was impressed with the speakers. “They had different perspectives and sort of different religious representation. I thought everyone had great points.”
Danica “Dewy” Emry works for Stand with Trans, an agency co-sponsor of the rally. They could not choose just one when asked which issues they are most passionate about. “I feel like you can’t really fight for one without fighting for all of it.”
The size of the crowd, Emry said, was no indication of support for such issues around the state.
“Even if it’s a smaller rally, or the people who came to the rally are already supporting the cause, I think a lot of times, it’s a good thing to just have everybody come together so that you can re-energize and recharge and remind yourself that we have people in our corner and people are backing us up, too.”