Mark LaChey wanted to see tigers. With that objective in mind, the former first vice chair of the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) recently spent two weeks in India, where his wish was abundantly granted. LaChey sat down with Pride Source on the occasion of his retirement from MDP leadership.
“Tigers were number one on my list,” LaChey said, explaining that he intends to see many more animals in the wild. His chances of seeing tigers on this trip were marginal, but the safari guide for LaChey’s vehicle got lucky. “I saw seven different tigers — 20-plus sightings. Phenomenal,” he remarked. “They are amazing.”
LGBTQ+ Democrats and allies in Michigan who seek a seat at the political table have long known LaChey’s name. Under his leadership from 2013 to 2018, the LGBT & Allies Caucus experienced significant growth and became an influential voice in the legislature. Until recently, LaChey served as the MDP’s first openly LGBTQ+ vice chair, a role he took on in 2019. As first vice chair, LaChey proudly represented the state’s LGBTQ+ interests as a member of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
LaChey met numerous candidates for president during a DNC meeting in San Francisco in August of 2019 when there were still 15 to 20 Democrats in play. “All but two of them, I think, came in front of us in person and gave us their pitch,” LaChey said. He noted Kamala Harris and Cory Booker as especially memorable. LaChey would later endorse openly gay Pete Buttigieg for the primary. “That was really exciting to be in the room, sitting there vetting presidential candidates for all of us Democrats.”
When LaChey was elected chair of the LGBT & Allies Caucus, there had been no openly LGBTQ+ state legislators after Chris Kolb termed out in 2006. At the time, LaChey told Pride Source, “Our goal is electing pro-LGBT candidates statewide. The ultimate goal is to elect pro-LGBT leaders. We are all about finding, funding and supporting pro-LGBT candidates.”
With seven openly LGBTQ+ state legislators today — by far the most in state history — one could argue he’s retiring with his mission accomplished. By the same token, LaChey says he’d still like to see more LGBTQ+ women, people of color and transgender individuals in office.
Rep. Jason Morgan of Ann Arbor is one of those seven LGBTQ+ lawmakers elected this year. He’s also taken the baton from LaChey as first vice chair of the state party. Morgan said what he’s always loved about LaChey is that he speaks his mind and says what he believes in. As vice chair, Morgan knows he has big shoes to fill.
“I am hoping to build on the great leadership Mark has provided for the Michigan Democratic Party,” Morgan said. “He blazed the trail as the first LGBTQ vice chair of the MDP, and I am so honored to be following in his footsteps. I hope to continue to build a more inclusive party that works hard to ensure we are supporting and electing people to office who reflect the beautiful diversity of Michigan's people.”
In January, LaChey reflected on his 50-year work history — which began with lawn mowing and snow shoveling — while vacationing in Puerto Vallarta. The 67-year-old retired from practicing law in 2020.
“I had filed paperwork and was planning on running and just decided that with seven now in the LGBT Caucus in our state legislature and with Democratic majorities in our legislature, Supreme Court and in the governor's mansion — and it looked like Elliott-Larsen would be amended, as it has been — I thought, A, I've kind of accomplished a lot of what I set out to do, and B, when things become a chore instead of a pleasure, it is time to step away and move on. There’s plenty of good people in the pipeline.”
LaChey said the reason he is so passionate about electing LGBTQ+ candidates is that in the past, he would find he was one of the only ones doing the work.
“I cannot tell you the number of times I would go to a fundraiser and I would be the only [openly] gay person in the room,” LaChey said. “And there could be 100 people at the fundraiser. And I would make sure that I would walk up to the candidate and say, ‘I'm Mark LaChey. I'm openly gay and I'm here to support you.’” He would then ask their positions on amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and on marriage equality — before those things were the law of land and at a time when they were not universally popular among Democrats.
One of LaChey’s most satisfying experiences in politics relates to his tenure on the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund campaign board.
“One of the goals of Victory is to get a seat at the table at every legislature,” LaChey explained. He called getting former State Rep. Jon Hoadley and State Sen. Jeremy Moss elected “one of the high points, if not the high point, of my career as a behind-the-scenes LGBT political operative here in Michigan.” He noted that there had been other LGBTQ+ legislators on both sides of the aisle; however, they were closeted.
“Jeremy [Moss], I spoke to when he first ran for city council in Southfield,” LaChey said. “He was going back and forth about whether he should run as an openly gay person for city council. And as I counseled everybody, [I suggested] run as a city council person who's gay, not a gay city council person. And the rest is history with respect to Jeremy.”
LaChey has lived in Saugatuck for the past 10 years with his partner, artist Bryan Hoffman, a former Ruth Ellis Center board chair. Prior to that, LaChey lived in Pleasant Ridge, where he served on the Pleasant Ridge City Commission from 1991 to 2005.
“I was one of the first [openly LGBTQ+ candidates] elected,” LaChey said. “I felt that it is so vitally important to have someone who is from our community who, as they say, if you're not at the table, you're on the menu.”
It was in Pleasant Ridge that LaChey launched a group for LGBTQ+ residents, aptly named Rainbow Ridge. Around that time he met attorney and Ruth Ellis Center founding board co-chair John Allen.
“I met Mark in 1993 at the March on Washington, and we both found that we lived in Pleasant Ridge,” Allen recalled. He mentioned an annual pool party and Valentine’s Day dance that LaChey was instrumental in planning.
“Mark is a great guy with a great heart and cares a lot about the community and cares a lot about his friends,” Allen said. “He is truly one of the unsung heroes. I know Mark doesn't get the credit for half of the things he does politically. He gives so much of himself and so much, frankly, of his own money, but also of his time and his energy. I just think that that deserves to be recognized.”
LaChey’s significance to the LGBTQ+ community in Michigan precedes his leadership with the MDP. In the mid-2000s, LaChey was a volunteer and later policy/political director for the Triangle Action Fund. Subsequently, he served as board chair when Triangle merged with Michigan Equality to become Equality Michigan. He is also a former precinct delegate for the Oakland County Democratic Party and member of the Stonewall Bar Association. As a student in the mid 1970s at Michigan State University’s James Madison College, LaChey enjoyed interning for a state representative in constituent relations. He was also responsible for maintaining the floor’s copy machine.
Today, his 6-month-old collie, Bonny, is taking up a lot of LaChey’s time. Caring for his other pets — Louie the German Shepherd and Lucky the cat — and reading a memoir by Gore Vidal have been keeping him busy. The day before this interview, he was transplanting daffodil bulbs. And LaChey has plans for more travel.
“Indonesia, Morocco, Madagascar,” LaChey replied, when asked to name locales of future bucket list adventures. “A walking safari in Zambia,” he added. “Plus, I’ve not yet seen Spain, Portugal, Austria… off the top of my head.”