Hilary Murmers readily admits she didn’t have a lot of faith in Michigan.
When Murmers and her spouse moved here in 2021, “We felt like, OK, we’ll go try this out. We’ll give it a year or two and get out as soon as we need to,” Murmers recalled, laughing. At the time, they were relocating from Buffalo, New York solely for her job opportunity as LGBTQIA+ coordinator at the University of Michigan – Flint.
“When we were looking for a place to rent,” Murmers explained to Pride Source, “we specifically looked only in towns and municipalities that had anti-discrimination clauses and didn’t look in others.” At the time, Michigan mostly offered a patchwork of municipal-level ordinances. They settled on a rental in Fenton, largely for lack of options.
Today, they’re in the process of buying a house in Swartz Creek. And it’s the positive consequences of the last election that sealed the deal.
It is Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, after all, who likes to say, “Bigotry is bad for business.” The newly reelected state leader has been vocal about the expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) having both social and practical benefits, including attracting and retaining Michigan residents.
“The political shift in Michigan made me feel a lot more confident in Michigan as the long-term place for us and ultimately made us feel confident enough to put down serious roots and buy a house,” Murmers said. She specifically named the expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and the reelection of Gov. Whitmer as deciding factors.
Murmers said now, as a couple, they feel safer and more protected than in other states. Her spouse is trans, and they are both keenly aware of the anti-trans legislation and executive actions sweeping the nation. She also noted that in a state like Florida where Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work is being eradicated from higher education, she wouldn’t have a job.
Not only does Murmers have personal experience as a queer person choosing Michigan these days, she said she hears from students who are feeling safer, too. “I definitely hear, especially [from] my trans students who I serve, that they have thought about going elsewhere for graduate school or [are] wanting to live in other places, other states, just to have more adventures,” Murmers said. “And they now feel like, ‘The number of places that I will be safe is a lot shorter of a list.’”
While Murmers is pleased with the signing of the ELCRA amendment and Whitmer’s leadership as an ally, she’s especially concerned about the trans community. “The weight of what is happening nationwide, even though it is not actively touching Michiganders, is bearing down on my students every day,” Murmers said.
Murmers would like to see Michigan become a sanctuary state for trans families escaping states hostile to their wellbeing, as has occurred recently in states like Minnesota and New Jersey.
It remains to be seen whether Michigan becomes a sanctuary state, but one could argue that Michigan is a brand new option for certain college-seekers because of the state’s newly progressive policies in general. That was the case for the son of a state lawmaker in Illinois, whose niche college major left him with options for studying in states like Florida and Texas in addition to UM’s main Ann Arbor campus. That student’s mom, Rep. Kelly Cassidy, is an openly LGBTQ+ legislator in Chicago.
While Cassidy’s twins were college hunting, the lawmaker was her chamber’s lead on addressing the impacts of the Dobbs v. Jackson decision on her state’s laws and those of the rest of the country. That Supreme Court ruling effectively overturned Roe v. Wade. While she was steeped in the issues that returned abortion rights back into the hands of each state, both of her sons were looking at schools where she didn’t necessarily feel safe sending them. She spoke of hard conversations they had about the values they share as a family.
“As a parent, I’m concerned for your safety and wellbeing there,” Cassidy recalled saying to them. “And I’m concerned for my safety and wellbeing as a queer person there.”
Cassidy had heard of Michigan’s Proposal 3, which would enshrine reproductive freedom in Michigan’s Constitution. She questioned her friend Michigan State Sen. Jeremy Moss.
“’I’m a little nervous,” Cassidy recalled sharing with Moss about Proposal 3. “Is Michigan still gonna be in play for us?” She was thinking of her son’s options for college. She called the ballot initiative’s passage “a huge comfort for me and very much a driving factor” in her family’s selection of UM.
Cassidy feels heartened that Michigan is finally passing positive legislation, including the ELCRA amendment (SB4), which added LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination protections to state law, and getting bad bills off the books.
“It’s been a really fulfilling experience knowing that some real harmful things have been taken out of play here in Illinois,” Cassidy said. “I certainly am excited to see Michigan continue to advance and help us grow; it’s nice to have some company in the Midwest.”
Cassidy’s sentiment echoes Michigan Gov. Whitmer’s oft-repeated invitation to LGBTQ+ community members living outside the state. As Gov. Whitmer said before signing the landmark ELCRA legislation:
“To all of the young people and families who love them all across this country, if you’re looking for a place that will respect you and protect you, it’s time to come to Michigan.”
Cassidy, who introduced a bill in Illinois that would provide tax credits for in-migration from hostile states and for people bringing medical licenses or teaching licenses to her state, believes LGBTQ+ people should move where they’re wanted. “I think that there are great opportunities for states like [Illinois] and like Michigan to really take bold steps to not just protect and reinforce our values,” she said, “but to create safe space for folks who need it.”