For LGBTQ+ Michiganders as a whole, 2023 was a banner year, one in which the community finally gained civil rights protections. To kick off 2024, Pride Source sat down with HRC state director Dakota Torolski to discuss the highlights. “Incredible” was his one-word summary of the year — success he traced back to 2022.
“From our perspective, at HRC, we declared a national state of emergency. We saw attacks continue across the country, radical politicians attacking our community to try to score political points.” Meanwhile in Michigan, the 2022 election cycle saw voters reject the politics of hate and elect the greatest pro-equality majority in the history of the Michigan Legislature and largest LGBTQ+ legislative caucus by far, which paved the way for progress.
While the following are presented in no particular order, expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections for the queer community rightfully earns the top spot.
1. LGBTQ+ rights are guaranteed (finally!)
Raise another glass! The civil rights of queer Michiganders were enshrined into law in March, the culmination of more than 40 years of tireless work by LGBTQ+ activists and pro-equality legislators. With her signature, Gov. Whitmer kept her promise to the community. For Torolski, who witnessed the event, it was a historic moment.
“I think often about the signing with Mel Larsen,” Torolski said of the former lawmaker who was in attendance. “Actually being there brought the moment into its historic context.”
Michigan joins 22 other states where the rights of LGBTQ+ people are guaranteed by law.
2. Conversion therapy on minors is banned
In 2023, banning conversion therapy represented the legislative win with the greatest and most positive impact on the health of LGBTQ+ youth in Michigan. This was another hard-fought battle, one that required educating elected officials in Lansing in the form of persistent lobbying. Hate Won’t Win coalition partners spearheaded the efforts.
“Another super exciting win,” said Torolski of the ban. "A huge win for protecting Michigan youth, specifically. No one should live in fear of being subjected to the discredited and dangerous practice of so-called 'conversion therapy.'"
State-licensed healthcare providers are now banned from engaging in the practice on minors.
3. Largest LGBTQ+ legislative caucus in state history
Representation does matter. Other pro-equality legislation that was introduced might not have been possible if Michigan voters hadn’t elected the largest LGBTQ+ caucus in state history, whose swearing-in occurred at the top of 2023. The seven includes the state’s first nonbinary state legislator and first Black and openly LGBTQ+ state legislator. Many are up for re-election this year; watch for updates on those races and others.
4. Legislation to ban the gay/trans panic defense
A bill to ban the abhorrent gay/trans panic defense was introduced and passed by the Michigan House, aimed at preventing homophobia and transphobia from being used as valid legal defenses in violent crimes. Torolski hopes the enactment of the bill “will send a clear, concise and firm message that Michigan will not support the notion that one’s sexual orientation or gender identity can serve as a justification or legal defense to criminal acts of violence.”
5. Improving the name and gender marker change process
At the end of last session, legislation was introduced that would streamline the process for changing one’s name or gender marker, something sorely needed in Michigan.
Currently, the name change process for the purpose of gender transition is not equitable for name change for other reasons, like marriage. Passage of the bills would end fingerprinting and other unnecessary requirements. Torolski is watching closely and believes it might not be a heavy lift as many of the provisions simply need to be codified into law.
“That legislation is a safety issue that directly impacts the community,” Torolski said. “That's why it's going to be one of HRC's top priorities moving into next year. Unmatched records and ID docs can harm transgender individuals and increase the risk of discrimination, harassment and violence.”
6. Surrogacy legislation
In other legislative news, in November the House passed a package of bills that, among other things, would legalize paid surrogacy contracts, thus aligning Michigan with the rest of the country. This represents an important milestone for LGBTQ+ couples, many of whom find becoming a parent challenging and expensive due in part to the state’s current restrictions. All parents who use assisted reproduction would have the same rights and protections as other families.
7. Establishing an LGBTQ+ Commission
LGBTQ+ Michiganders were lifted up again by Gov. Whitmer last year, beginning with the establishment of an LGBTQ+ Commission in June. Many, including Pride Source, had brought this gap to her attention, and she delivered. The advisory board, which reports to the governor and the Department of Labor comprises 13 individuals representing diverse interests within Michigan’s queer community.
“Michigan has been a beacon of hope for equality under [Whitmer’s] leadership,” Torolski said. “Implementing the first-ever statewide LGBTQ+ commission is another example of making Michigan a more welcoming and prosperous place for all.”
8. $10 million for LGBTQ+ health disparities
Gov. Whitmer also saw to it that LGBTQ+ Michiganders were remembered in the 2023-2024 budget. That came through in the form of a $10 million grant for LGBTQ+ health disparities, an initiative also undertaken by the entire LGBTQ+ legislative caucus. This unprecedented funding will support the work of community-based organizations.
9. Preferred pronouns in courtrooms across the state
Last year, the Michigan Supreme Court also focused on ensuring equitable treatment of LGBTQ+ people in court. Mandating the use of preferred pronouns in courtrooms statewide was a groundbreaking first for Michigan and the U.S.
10. Equitable parent doctrine
Rounding out the list was another milestone, with the state supreme court again stepping up to support the queer community in a ruling regarding the equitable parent doctrine, which had previously been discriminatory in its application. Now, Michigan is in line with the rest of the country, ensuring that parents of nonbiological children outside the context of marriage are allowed to petition for their custody. This ruling supports individuals who could not legally marry pre-Obergefell vs. Hodges.
Also worth mentioning is the introduction of legislation that would remove gendered marital language from the legal code, legislation that would strengthen penalties for hate crimes and the impressive wins of LGBTQ+ candidates in the 2023 municipal elections, most notably in Macomb County.
Torolski summed up the remarkable year, acknowledging the work still to be done.
“2023 was a rejection of the politics of hate and representation of the will of Michigan voters,” he said. “Radical politicians were using attacks to try to score political points on our community. It didn't work. They might try that again in 2024. We're going to be happy to prove them wrong again.”