• Newly elected first Vice Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, Mark LaChey, with newly elected Chair of the LGBTQ and Allies Caucus Roland Leggett.

Mark LaChey Elected First Vice Chair of Michigan Democratic Party, Roland Leggett Chair of LGBT & Allies Caucus

Ellen Shanna Knoppow
By | 2019-02-07T11:42:48-04:00 February 6th, 2019|Michigan, News|

One day after the state emerged from a record-breaking cold snap, nearly 3,000 Democratic Michiganders gathered for the Michigan Democratic Party Spring Convention at Cobo Center in Detroit. There, credentialed delegates were tasked with electing MDP leadership as well as leadership for constituency caucuses and congressional districts.
The mood of the day-long event was largely celebratory in light of the gains made in the recent midterm elections; however, as 2020 looms, the crowd was advised to remain vigilant. As one elected official quipped, “put the champagne back in the refrigerator.”
The LGBT & Allies Caucus opened with words from Vice Chair Mark LaChey, who was not seeking re-election to that post. Later, he would be elected first vice chair of the Michigan Democratic Party and would become the first openly gay Michigander to serve on the Democratic National Committee.
“It’s gratifying that we are the force in Michigan Democratic politics, and that’s a thank-you to you for showing up, being queer, making sure people know we’re queer, that we vote, that we write checks, that we knock doors and that we are who we are,” LaChey said. “And we have candidates we’ve elected — people who are pro-equality, starting with Gretchen Whitmer, all the way down.”
LaChey said that the pro-LGBTQ executive order signed by Gov. Whitmer on her second day in office didn’t happen in a vacuum. In politics today, he said, one can’t count on people to do what’s right just because it’s right.
“It happens because we’re loud, we’re proud and we make sure people know that we’re in their faces,” he said.
LaChey went on to encourage more LGBTQ Democrats to run for office in 2020. In terms of LGBTQ representation in the state legislature, Michigan has gone from zero to three in just a few years — Tim Sneller and Jon Hoadley in the state House, Jeremy Moss in the state Senate — but the caucus needs to be cognizant of term limits.
“So if you are interested, talk to somebody, make yourself known. We have support,” he said.
Next on the agenda was the election of a new chair and three vice chairs of the caucus. Roland Leggett detailed his experience and, as LaChey had, the power of this group.
“One of the things that has really had the greatest impact for me in this role is the opportunity that we have had to make real change happen for LGBTQ Michiganders,” said Leggett, speaking of his tenure as vice chair.
He went on to give as an example a time during Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s re-election campaign when the caucus was called upon to hold a fundraiser on her behalf. Before doing so, they asked her to sit down with youth and leadership from the Ruth Ellis Center to devise real solutions to challenges that affect that population.
“What you do for us impacts what we’ll do for you,” Leggett said. “And that’s the power of this caucus.”
Stabenow did as requested and, subsequently, her office helped secure funding for supportive housing for LGBTQ youth.
“That would not have happened had it not been for the organizing and the work this caucus does,” Leggett added.
Leggett was elected chair of the caucus over Ricardo White, a candidate for state House in 2018. In his new role, Leggett said he wants to first build on the work the caucus has already started: not only recruiting and supporting candidates that are part of the LGBTQ community, but also those who share the values and interests of the LGBTQ community at the forefront of the legislation they champion.
“We have to ensure that the focus of the Democratic Party also remains laser-sharp focused on the issues that affect our community,” Leggett said, adding, “I’m very concerned by the rate at which transgender women of color, in particular, are murdered in the city of Detroit. All of our policies have to wrap around addressing that.”
Leggett lives in Detroit and has two children. He’s on the board of the Ruth Ellis Center and has worked for Equality Michigan as well as the American Civil Liberties Union. A former president of the Human Rights Commission of the city of Detroit, Leggett said, “These issues are personal.”
Leggett said he’s looking forward to working with the three vice chairs — Grace Wojcik, Jacob Johnson and Susan Grettenberger — the members of the caucus and those around the state “to ensure that we can continue to move Michigan forward and to lift up LGBT families.”
Following the caucuses and meetings, elections were held for chair, first vice chair and second vice chair of the party. Democratic elected officials including the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, two senators and six members of Congress spoke, too. Lavora Barnes, former Chief Operating Officer of the MDP, became the first African-American woman to serve as chair of the Michigan Democratic Party; Andy Dillon did not seek re-election.
In nominating LaChey for male vice chair — a win would allow him to move up from second vice chair to first — Dillon called him “not only a tireless advocate for folks in the LGBT community, but for all people in Michigan,” further describing him as “proven, tested, respected at the state and the national level.”
In his new role, LaChey will serve on the Democratic National Committee. After winning his election, LaChey said he was “very excited and honored to be the first LGBT Michigander to serve” on the DNC.
“I will do my best to represent the LGBT community, members of the Michigan Democratic Party as well as Democrats across the state of Michigan,” he said. “I was gratified and honored to be asked to serve with Lavora Barnes … and excited to be working with Fay Beydoun, our new second vice chair. I think the three of us, along with the thousands of others who comprise the Michigan Democratic Party, will make a great team going forward as we head into 2020.”
Attending the convention was Steve Hanses, a transgender woman who is retired and lives in Royal Oak. Hanses worked as a field organizer during the 2018 coordinated campaign, and said she was hopeful about the work that the LGBT & Allies Caucus is doing and the future of the MDP in general.
“In a packed house, we came and voted for the future of the Democratic Party in Michigan,” Hanses said. “It gives me good hope to know that we’re putting good candidates out there and we’re gonna work hard for the next two years.”

About the Author:

Ellen Shanna Knoppow
Ellen Knoppow is a writer, editor and activist.