As recently as a few weeks ago, those who support an anti-gay agenda in Michigan were out in full force. Voters in west Michigan’s Jamestown Township were so outraged by their library offering age-appropriate reading material to LGBTQ+ youth that they voted down the library millage. There will be another opportunity for voters to do the right thing in the general election.
“Unfortunately, this vote is an example of when cultural opinions meet ballot boxes,” said Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan, “which is exactly why Equality Michigan, Affirmations, HRC and others joined together to launch the historic ‘Hate Won’t Win’ coalition and campaign.”
Defunding libraries is but one way an extremist base targets LGBTQ+ youth, trans and nonbinary youth in particular, Knott said. She listed what else “MAGA extremists” have been up to since just this past spring: a homophobic invocation in the Senate, the rejection of an LGBTQ+ candidate for a public service appointment, attempts to add anti-trans language to a budget bill and a hate-filled fundraising email that led to Sen. Mallory McMorrow’s viral Michigan House speech in which she declared, “We will not let hate win.”
The far right is so bothered by the existence of LGBTQ+ youth that a confounding bill was introduced in June that would prohibit school children from being exposed to drag performances. At their schools.
“We’ve heard from parents all across Michigan that said, ‘The GSA Club that’s been in existence for many years now is being labeled a sex club,’” Knott said, “and there are parents that want to eliminate that club that provides so much love and support to members of our community. So, we felt enough is enough; it’s time to act.”
The campaign began with an ad created by Equality Michigan’s advocacy arm, Equality Michigan Action Network, which in June aired on cable TV in the key areas of Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids. The spots featured Emily and Katie, two moms of transgender daughters whose message is to stop harming LGBTQ+ kids.
“Emily identifies as a Republican,” Knott said. “Her message was directly aimed at Republicans in the Michigan Legislature. Katie was a softer touch and she talked more broadly to elected officials and had included comments that when her daughter transitioned, she was afraid that the kids were going to be mean and harm her daughter, but really it was the politicians that bullied her.”
In this part of the campaign, they will be collecting more stories and lifting them up on the Hate Won’t Win website (hatewont.win). Family members, friends and allies will talk about their connection to the LGBTQ+ community and demand the attacks stop.
Asking voters to pledge to vote is another element of the campaign.
“We are about ready to begin robust Southeast Michigan-focused canvassing efforts,” Knott said. “You can guarantee that in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb County, you’re gonna start seeing canvassers probably about the third week in August, knocking on doors, talking to voters about what’s at stake, as well as encouraging that pledge to vote.” That will be supplemented with canvasses in other targeted districts across the state. Knott reported they’re in the final stages of putting together their digital and mail plans, which will be supported with volunteer phone and text banks as they reach the later stages of the campaign.
Hate Won’t Win is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that includes almost every LGBTQ+ nonprofit in the state, plus ally organizations. The campaign doesn’t direct voters to cast their ballot for any particular candidates; instead, the aim is to mobilize people who care about equality to vote for equality, up and down the ballot. Voters should be aware of what LGBTQ+ people have to gain or lose on Nov. 8.
“Our rights are really under attack here in Michigan,” said Amritha Venkataraman, state political director for HRC. “We have a record number of anti-equality candidates running for some of the highest offices in the country, and we have a real opportunity with new maps and with the energy we have around LGBTQ issues to elect pro-quality candidates and protect the progress that we’ve made. Now is not the time to take the pedal off of the gas.”
HRC has been in Michigan since 2018, where all of their work has focused on encouraging members and supporters to vote for equality, said Venkaraman. HRC’s campaign know-how and field experience are key to helping drive increased turnout in support of LGBTQ-friendly candidates and issues impacting the community.
Great Lakes Bay Pride is another member organization, with Scott Ellis as executive director of the community center for the past two years. The organization represents Michigan’s Great Lakes Bay Region of Bay, Isabella, Midland and Saginaw counties. Ellis said his interest in joining the coalition stemmed from his involvement with the Michigan LGBTQ+ Community Centers Network.
“That was a big step for our organization to start operating at a statewide level and connecting with our peers and other communities, both larger and smaller, across the state,” Ellis said.
The network served as a springboard for Ellis to become more actively involved with what was happening in the Metro Detroit area, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and especially in Lansing. He said he wanted to make sure LGBTQ+ people in his area were being represented throughout the state.
As a 501c3, Ellis pointed out that they can’t endorse candidates. But there are other ways to be political.
“We do advocate,” Ellis said. “We advocate for pro-equality, we advocate for policies that protect our community and we advocate against policies that harm our community. And I think that’s something that’s really important for folks to understand: Being LGBTQ+ is political, whether you agree with or like that statement. It’s just a reality. It is political. It’s political being me.”
The collaborative work accomplished by the Hate Won’t Win coalition received high marks from all parties interviewed.
“I’ve been working on issue-based campaigns now for the better part of my career,” Knott said, “but I don’t recall progressive organizations — in this case, LGBTQ+ organizations and our allies — coming together and saying, ‘Let’s put our individualized turf, priorities, whatever, aside. And invest all of our capital — human capital, financial resources — into one pot.’”
Knott said she’s not aware of past statewide efforts on par with the campaign. She hopes other states will duplicate their model in the future.
“We know that LGBTQ+ voters and people that care about equality are a massive voting bloc,” Knott said. “We have political power, but we’ve never been organized, at least not that I’m aware of to this extent previously.”