• Dana Nessel addresses the crowd at the MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit on midterm election night 2018. Photo by Kate Gowman.

LGBTQ History: Dana Nessel Becomes Michigan’s First Openly Gay Attorney General

Kate Opalewski
By | 2018-11-07T10:11:37-05:00 November 7th, 2018|Election, LGBTQA Races, Statewide Races|

Michigan voters made history election night by choosing Dana Nessel to become the state’s first openly gay attorney general. She tweeted early Nov. 7 that her opponent, Republican state Rep. Tom Leonard called to concede.

Nessel will succeed Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is term-limited from seeking the office again and lost the battle for governor to Gretchen Whitmer. She defeated Republican candidate Tom Leonard, who reportedly conceded following the results of Tuesday’s night election, stating:
“Last night’s results may be personally disappointing, but it is time to move forward and allow Michigan’s next attorney general to begin transitioning into this important role,” Leonard said. “Dana Nessel ran a smart campaign and earned the voters’ trust. I have offered her any help she may need getting acclimated to the department and beginning her term. I will always have a passion for serving alongside law enforcement and making our state safer and stronger for Michigan families, and I wish Dana the best as she assumes that mantle on our behalf.”
Nessel, 49, broke the 16-year Republican streak for Michigan’s attorney general held by Republicans Mike Cox and Bill Schuette.

All photos by Kate Gowman:


Although Nessel could not give an acceptance speech on Tuesday night at which point the results were too close to call, she did take the stage at MotorCity Casino Hotel to thank her campaign staff and family.
“It has been such a long time since we’ve had an office of attorney general that really protected everyone in this state,” Nessel said. “And if things work out tonight and I become the new Michigan attorney general, I vow to follow in the legacy of the great Frank Kelly who I hope is watching television right now and say this: Whenever you feel like you need someone there for you — you know, when you’ve had someone rip you off or scam you, or you have a company that has polluted your environment or you live in a nursing home and you feel like you’ve been abused or neglected or if your civil rights have been infringed upon — and you say to yourself, ‘Who’s going to be my lawyer? Who’s going to represent me?’ Well, if this works out, I will tell you this: I will represent you. I will be your lawyer and I will work relentlessly towards justice for everybody in this state.”
The position of attorney general is meant to uphold the state’s top lawyer and law enforcement official. According to Michigan.gov, “the attorney general’s responsibilities include safeguarding the public from violent criminals, helping victims of crime, leading the fight against human trafficking and opioid abuse, preserving Michigan’s spectacular natural resources, protecting consumers and addressing illegal business practices.”
Nessel told BTL her priorities will be to protect the environment, senior citizens and consumers while addressing marijuana laws and fighting for civil rights.
“This is incredible for the LGBT community, and for our allies and activists,” said Trevor Thomas, Equality Michigan Action Network board chair. “It’s momentous to have elected our first-ever, out, statewide official in Dana Nessel; the fact that she’s been at the vanguard of our fight for civil rights for years is even more so. It’s been decades since Michigan’s LGBT community had an advocate in the attorney general’s office. To have not just an ally, but a fighter who truly gets it, who lives it, means so much.”
Nessel has nearly 25 years of legal experience covering a vast array of disciplines as both a defense and prosecuting attorney. Her work has centered around elevating and protecting the rights of marginalized and unrepresented communities. She spearheaded the DeBoer v. Snyder case, which joined Obergefell v. Hodges and legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. She is also the founder and president of the two-year-old Fair Michigan Justice Project that investigates and prosecutes hate crimes and currently has a 100 percent conviction rate. This first-of-its-kind task force has charged over two dozen offenses, most of them capital offenses.
Nessel lives in southeast Michigan with her wife, Alanna Maguire, their twin sons, Alex and Zach, along with her pet cats. She publicly kissed her wife when delivering MotorCity Casino Hotel speech as an act of LGBTQ solidarity. For the next four years, Nessel will serve as Michigan’s Attorney General, and she will be up for re-election in 2022.

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.