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Michigan Sen. Jeremy Moss Is Here, Queer, And He Doesn’t Care If You Get Used To It

Why first openly gay member state senator isn’t letting up, even after a series of progressive wins

Sarah Bricker Hunt

In a way, Michigan Sen. Jeremy Moss is a throwback to the kind of classic Michigan Democrat that led to the state’s reputation as a union-driven, blue-collar mainstay on the national stage in the latter half of the 20th century. His matter-of-fact State House speeches have won him several national headlines not because they are the fiery, soundbyte-laden stuff late-night cable news hosts love so much, but because they are so earnest. Moss, who has lived in Southfield his whole life, says what he means and means what he says. If that’s not a sentiment true of the spirit of this state, it’s hard to say what would be.

At the same time — Moss, at a solidly Millennial age of 36, is just as much a product of his generation as he is a product of his blue-collar upbringing. He’s vocal on social media and well-versed in the modern culture wars. And yes, he’s openly gay.

No, he doesn’t shy away from that part of his identity. In fact, he wields his queerness in a way that immediately makes Republicans intent on pushing absurd claims about LGBTQ+ community members look irrelevant. He’s loud, he’s proud, and he really doesn’t care if you get used to it or not. He’s got work to do.

“There was a moment, when I was younger, where I realized I’m never not going to be gay,” Moss, who was elected to the state Senate in 2018, making him the first openly gay person to serve in the Michigan Senate, tells Pride Source. “This is gonna be me for the rest of my life, and it’s never going to change, so I have to live authentically, as who I am. If it's not me at that microphone in the Senate, it's nobody at that microphone in the Senate.”

Moss’s (very) early political aspirations

Moss may have been born for this role. As childhood friend Lizzie Seagle, who lives in Detroit, recalls, Moss was “super into” politics and politicians even at a very young age. The two went to the same school from first through eighth grade. Seagle says, “Everyone knew he was the kid most likely to become president. His bar mitzvah theme was even ‘Moss for Boss,’ like a political campaign. Loving politics and loving ‘I Love Lucy’ were his thing.

In hindsight, it’s hilarious a child had such a keen interest in those things.”

Seagle remembers sitting in her second grade classroom when Moss broke the somber news that former President Richard Nixon had died. She describes it as the exact moment she found out who Nixon was. “Jeremy walked into our second grade classroom and announced to the whole class that he had died, as if anyone else in the second grade had any interest in, or even knowledge of, Richard Nixon.”

“He’s always been passionate about politics, and it’s so awesome to watch him actually carry out his childhood dream and make a difference in state government,” Seagle adds. “It’s especially meaningful to see him proudly represent both the queer community and Jewish community.”

Fast forward a few decades and Moss, currently serving as Assistant Democratic Leader in the state Senate, is happy to rattle off the list of wins the party has chalked up since flipping the State House for the first time in more than four decades last November — he just asks people remember it’s been a group effort among various stakeholders, including non-profit organizations, constituents and the legislature.

The crowning achievement so far may be the much-anticipated Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights (ELCRA) amendment, which expanded civil rights protections to Michigan’s LGBTQ+ community. Moss crafted the legislation alongside Rep. Jason Hoskins (D-Southfield), the first openly gay Black state rep, who Moss frequently refers to as someone who has been his “right-hand man” throughout Moss’s journey to the state Senate.

Like Moss, Hoskins started his political career on the Southfield City Council and then went on to become a state representative. Hoskins is currently serving his first term representing Michigan’s 18th district, while Moss served as the representative for the 35th district before being elected to the Senate.  “I’m so grateful for his leadership and his friendship over the years as they have had a profound impact on my life and I don't think I would be where I am now with him,” Hoskins says.

Hoskins describes Moss as “the rare kind of leader who not only lifts up our community but, through a network of advocates and allies, has fostered a sense of solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.”

Moss, Hoskins adds, has been unwavering in his defense of the LGBTQ+ community against hateful rhetoric for years. “It serves as an inspiration to us all, reminding us that true leadership emerges from authenticity, empathy and a relentless pursuit of a better world for everyone.”

The ELCRA amendment is one of several highly impactful progressive accomplishments. In the first quarter of 2023, the legislature also put bills in front of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that struck down Michigan’s archaic abortion law, ended the anti-union right to work era, implemented the first real gun control legislation in a generation, and the list goes on.

Watching Trump’s influence on Michigan GOP leaders

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Sen. Moss in session at the State House. Photo: Michigan Senate

Moss’s focus on progressive goals is partly an effort to move forward on issues due for a recalibration, like the ELCRA amendment and access to abortion. But it’s also a repudiation of the lingering impact of the Trump administration. Moss remembers watching the Republican party become beholden to the former president when he was serving as a state rep representing Michigan’s 35th district from 2015 to 2019.

“When he came down those escalators and announced his campaign, I can tell you, no Republican in the legislature wanted him to become the nominee,” Moss recalls. “None of them felt he was qualified to run and they all avoided him on the campaign trail, but the second he was elected, they wanted to be a part of it.

“Now it’s just a farce that they’re all kind of lining up behind Ron DeSantis and want to move on from Trump,” he says. “He’s just been this indelible figure in our politics in a really damaging way. There’s no doubt that his tactics are to prey on people’s fears, to throw facts out the window and to target people who are vulnerable.”

Lately, of course, the LGBTQ+ community has been the target, especially transgender folks and drag performers. “The same people who laughed at drag queens and had no problems with them for years and years and years, suddenly calling them the greatest threat to our kids is just so ridiculous,” Moss says. “And that’s why I really took 2022 as an opportunity to ensure that that would be the last campaign where the LGBTQ community would be used as a political punching bag.”

Moss says he felt there was a weight on him as an openly gay state leader, one he tried to harness in an effective way. “I knew if I didn’t stand up for this community, what could happen. I wanted people to know that there are consequences to LGBTQ hate and, in Michigan, there were electoral consequences. Our state absolutely rejected the bigotry and hatred spewed by [former GOP nominee for Michigan governor] Tudor Dixon all the way to Senate candidates who ran against transgender youth and athletes.

“I am delighted by the opportunity to combat them at every turn.”

Still, Moss acknowledges things could have gone in the other direction — that his presence on the ticket and his frequent vocalization about the queer community could be a burden on the whole ticket. After all, while progressive voters were clearly motivated by pro-LGBTQ+ messaging, Republicans have ignited a fire among their base by going after the same communities.

“So yes, there was a point where I was thinking ‘Are we going to be the reason that Democrats lose across the state?’ It was in the back of my mind. If we were to lose, how would we move forward as a community? But you have to have faith in reasonable people, compassionate people who just want everybody to have a fair shake, and Michiganders rejected the hatred and bigotry and embraced our community,” he adds.

Time to relax… or not

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Sen. Moss at the historic signing of the ELCRA amendment. Photo: Michigan Senate

With the amendment a done deal and the legislature solidly blue (at least for a while), it would surely be easier for Moss to take a breather. But as Republicans push transphobic rhetoric nationally and in pockets across Michigan, Moss is as fired up as he was when the then GOP-led Senate failed to pass a Pride Month resolution in 2022. In a Senate floor speech at the time, he said, "The Republican leadership regresses and again throws Pride Month back into the trash heap. I guess the cruelty is the point. ... The Republican leadership will never stand for LGBTQ equality.

“Their agenda is to make you fear the gay agenda, but I am not the cause of your problems. My community is not the cause of your problems."

A year later, with the power of the majority on his side, Moss is practically daring the opposing party to bring homophobic and transphobic messaging to the table. “I want to show the lawmakers who are perpetrating this that they won’t get one syllable of homophobia and transphobia out without expecting it to be rebutted by me,” he says. “I want them to know that if they say anything, they will not get away with it without me coming to the same Senate microphone to combat it.”

Moss thinks the trajectory in other states could rapidly shift if more LGBTQ+ candidates emerged, even in typically conservative areas. “We need more LGBTQ candidates who step up as mothers and fathers, as taxpayers and homeowners and members of society in their own right,” he says. “But also by bringing their living queer experiences to represent our community in these spaces.”

Moss contends that for the last several years, the Elliott-Larsen amendment had enough bipartisan support to pass, but the “extreme fringe” of the Republican leadership refused to bring it to the floor vote. And, in fact, several Republicans did join Democrats when the time came. “So, remember — in these Republican states, just because they have loud, extreme members of their leadership that prevent these votes from coming forward, don’t let anyone feel like there isn’t a majority here in this country that supports LGBTQ rights,” he says. “We just have the lawmakers in place to do it.”

As passionate as he is about LGBTQ+ issues, advocating for the community is far from his sole passion. “I am a gay person, but that doesn’t mean it’s all gay all the time,” he says. “All of us are living our lives and have other priorities.”

For example, Moss currently serves as Senate President Pro Tem and as chairman of the Senate Election and Ethics Committee, a role that has him focused on protecting literal (small d) democracy. This work involves removing barriers to voting by increasing initiatives like early and absentee voting and cleaning up Lansing, which Moss says has been plagued by “scandal after scandal after scandal.”

To that end, Moss has been working on rectifying a situation that has left Michigan as one of only two states where a lawmaker does not have to disclose financial conflicts of interest related to proposed legislation. “We need to know whether or not somebody’s being personally enriched by legislation that they're introducing or moving,” he explains. “We’ve just seen too many dark moneyed interests have a lot of influence over the process. It’s important to me and to our entire democracy to make sure people have faith and confidence that their government actors are working on their behalf and nobody else’s.”

When Moss isn’t working, he’s… well, he’s probably working. Asked about his downtime, he laughs. Sure, he might make his way to a place like Soho, a queer bar in Ferndale, on occasion — in fact, it’s not unusual for constituents to find him there — but it’s likely not for a fun night out on the town. Instead, he’s more than likely among rowdy bargoers discussing a homeowner’s association issue over a beer at 1 a.m. To be clear, he’s not unhappy about this circumstance.

“I’m a member of the community, I’m not different and not separate,” he says. “There is no off the clock.”

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