by Jessica Carreras
History has been made.
The results are in all over the country and the state of Michigan and the LGBT community is reacting with enthusiasm, optimism and hopefulness for what the future holds. From Barack Obama’s election to the passage of Michigan Propositions 1 and 2 on medical marijuana and stem cell research to the anti-gay propositions and amendments across the country, local LGBT Michiganders are reacting with joy, caution, tears and, as was the case in Ferndale at midnight last night, dancing in the streets.
“He can have Kansas!” Affirmations Youth Coordinator Laura Sorensen shouted last night at the center’s election party of John McCain’s vote clinch in the state.
Sure enough, McCain got Kansas, but now-President Elect Barack Obama got the electoral votes necessary to win. In fact, he got almost 350 of them, by the count released by CNN on Wednesday afternoon.
LGBT supporters couldn’t be happier.
“I think lots of wonderful things are happening tonight and I really think it is a new beginning for a lot of us,” said TransGender Michigan co-founder Rachel Crandall on Tuesday evening.
“I, like many people, had tears in my eyes,” said ACLU of Michigan LGBT attorney Jay Kaplan of watching the presidential results come in. “Just the idea that we were able to come this far and to transcend things, barriers that were put there before, it just gives you a great deal of hope.
“Obviously, Obama has indicated that he is more open to LGBT equality and LGBT rights and that he’s supportive of things like the employment non-discrimination act, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” he continued, listing Obama’s support of the community rights. “The impact of his winning in terms of the United States Supreme Court, it’s just – it all provides some positive opportunities for our community in our struggle, in our quest for full equality. It’s a terrific thing.”
“As leaders in the movement seeking equality for LGBT Americans, we are very excited about the election of an LGBT friendly president, one who believes that the constitution applies to all Americans,” added Triangle Foundation Director of Policy Bernadette Brown. “We are overjoyed with that victory.”
Others commented on the racial aspect of the election, claiming it to be a huge victory not only for the LGBT community, but the black community as well. “You don’t really feel it until it actually is official,” said Karibu House Director Kofi Adoma, who claims she was optimistic about the election. “Now that it’s official, I can breath and I feel very hopeful for the country, for LGBTs, for people of color, for women. I feel so secure right now. It’s hard to put into words how long it has taken for our ancestors to make it possible for us to get to this point.”
Adoma, who has worked within the black LGBT community for years, said she was most excited to call her 82-year-old father. The news, she said, brought him to tears.
“I’m so full right now and I feel so empowered,” she continued, speaking from Affirmations after the election. “I have a new sense of hope now. I’ve never been more interested in an election or campaign before in my life. I’m just elated. I don’t even know how I’m going to sleep tonight.”
Some, like Mount Pleasant Couple Harry Kelley and Wayne Nicholson, feeling the impact on both race and LGBT equality, drove all the way to Ferndale to witness history in the making.
“I wanted to be in Detroit,” said Kelley. “It has a history of racial issues and relations. A place where we might experience a sense of the healing of that great divide.”
“We’re very excited,” agreed Nicholson. “… . What I am most touched by with just the possibility of his presidency is the beginning of the real end of racism.”
Still, people were cautious in their optimism, noting national races in California, Arizona and Florida in terms of state amendments banning marriage equality. All three states voted in favor of keeping marriage as between one man and one woman, though California’s Proposition 8, which was within 400,000 votes as of press time, had not been officially called. Kaplan referred to the races as “significant setbacks,” but was hopeful about the work to come.
“We still have a lot more work that we have to do on how we educate society about the importance of our families,” he admitted. “This is about treating families fairly and about treating children fairly. It’s some opportunities for messaging and education. We still have a long way to go in that respect, and we’re still going to have a lot of challenges.”
Kaplan also noted, however, that other pressing nationwide issues might put LGBT rights like marriage equality on the back burner for some time. “Our country, aside from social issues and inequality that our community faces, we have some pretty serious issues with the economy and war, so I don’t know how quickly or how adequately some of the things we have on our agenda will be addressed with the new administration or with congress itself,” he said. “We’re going to have to wait and see.”
After Tuesday’s election, political conversations in Michigan seem to have one thing in common: the mention of Diane Hathaway. Hathaway, who unseated notoriously homophobic incumbent Justice Clifford Taylor from the state Supreme Court, was one of the most celebrated decisions of the day.
“I am just ecstatic. That perhaps, in the state races, is the most surprising upset of the night,” said Brown. “An incumbent Supreme Court Justice has not been unseated since 1984 so the impact of Judge Hathaway’s victory is immeasurable, especially for the progressive community.”
“I’m very happy with the change in the Michigan Supreme Court. I think that’s extremely significant,” Kaplan added. “We’re known as one of the lost states in terms of equality because of our courts. Out of seven justices for almost the last decade, we’ve had a solid block of four who are this conservative majority, which basically doesn’t support civil rights for anybody, least of all for LGBT people. One of the architects of these damaging decisions is no longer going to be in that court.”
Taylor was instrumental in the decision that took away health care benefits from same-sex couples this year. Most LGBT community leaders are hoping that the change to Hathaway in the Supreme Court is the necessary puzzle piece that will help them revisit that issue in the state. “That Supreme Court is the number one problem for us, as we’ve all seen in the domestic partnership issues as well as any type of advancement for LGBT folks,” said Michigan Equality Executive Director Derek Smiertka. “The Supreme Court has always been on the side of the radical right and we saw their ringleader get defeated last night.”
Smiertka was also hopeful about the races in the Michigan House of Representatives. “The LGBT movement was instrumental in flipping six House seats, possibly more,” claimed Smiertka. “On the first look at things, we have won six seats that should never be in the Democrat category, which is great… . We’ll see a much more progressive dent to their policies and how they legislate and hopefully that will translate into the Senate where some of the Republican Senators will see that in Michigan, the tide is turning and it’s time to start getting on board with our issues and issues of the progressive community.”
In the U.S. Congress, both Gary Peters and Mark Schauer in Michigan’s ninth and seventh congressional districts defeated their Republican opponents in hotly contested races. Brown claimed Peters’s win as a giant step forward for the LGBT community. “That’s a huge victory for us and we’re extremely excited about that as well,” she commented.
“It’s been a long two years, but I’m very optimistic,” Smiertka said of the statewide results. “Especially what we’ve managed to do here in Michigan.”
However, though Smiertka was excited, he urged the LGBT community to be cautious with their emotions, especially in Michigan, a state that has had many upsets in recent LGBT rights history. “The LGBT community should remove all emotion from these elections and not be happy or sad, yet be smart and deliberate in our actions,” he cautioned. “You cannot get emotionally involved. And it’s hard. It’s extremely hard… . We need to keep fighting. We need to keep our heads up, our chins up and keep heading in the right direction to make this country as equal as possible.”