The 49th governor of Michigan, Gretchen “Big Gretch” Whitmer, made her first-ever appearance at Ferndale Pride Saturday morning. She welcomed everyone at the opening ceremony and then, like the other candidates up for a second term this November, made her case for reelection. Others who spoke included Attorney General Dana Nessel and State Sen. Jeremy Moss.
“This community has been through a lot, and the last few years have been challenging unlike anything any of us could have ever imagined,” Whitmer told the crowd. “But here’s what I know: The greatest strength of our state is our people. I’m talking about every one of our people, no matter who you love, how you identify … so long as I’m governor we’re going to fight for full rights and equality.”
Whitmer listed a few of her pro-LGBTQ+ accomplishments over the past four years, including extending full civil rights protection to all state employees and banning the appropriation of any funds for anything that targets the trans community.
“People often ask me, with all the craziness we’ve had to confront, why on earth would I want to keep doing this work?” she said. “And the answer is right here. This is what it’s all about. People.”
Whitmer also mentioned that her oldest daughter is a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
“[She] deserves full civil rights just like every one of you do,” said the governor. “We will not stop until that is our reality.
“We’ve got work to do, and we’ve all got to be in this fight,” Whitmer continued. “I will take all the heat that comes my way so long as there’s an army behind me. And I can see it. Thank you. I love you.”
Nessel, who followed the governor, praised Whitmer for all she had done.
“We have a legislature who will not do anything positive for our community,” she said. “But within her executive control she literally has done everything and anything she possibly can to protect the LGBTQ+ community. And she never stops trying to think of new ways to protect us.”
Nessel then went on to recap her greatest pro-LGBTQ+ hits, including making it easier for trans persons to change the gender on their birth certificates, ensuring her department “would never be complicit in misgendering people” and arguing before the state supreme court in the Rouch World case that the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination because of an individual’s sexual orientation.
“When I was running for office, knowing that if I won, I’d be the first openly gay person ever to hold office in Michigan, I said I wasn’t going to hide who I was. I was going to make sure that people knew we were represented,” she said. “When I vowed to protect the community, I meant it.”
The final speaker at the ceremony was Moss, the first openly gay senator in Michigan history. Moss said that this year’s Pride didn’t feel the same as previous years.
“We’ve had Prides in the past of celebration,” he said. “We’ve had Prides of progress … but now it feels a little different. They’re coming after us. They’re talking about us. They’re attacking us in the most heinous and aggressive ways.”
Moss issued a call to action for the crowd, saying that after they’d enjoyed the Pride festivities, there was work to do.
“You’re going to sign up to volunteer to protect our community,” he said. “You’re going to sign up to protect choice. You’re going to sign up to help elect pro-equality candidates.
“This is a pride of action, and if we have to dust off the old slogans from the top of the movement we will tell them: ‘We are here. We are queer. Get used to it.’”
Liz Pfieger was at Pride to give out free hugs. She was delighted by the governor’s speech.
“I’m just so proud and happy that she’s here,” Pfieger said. “My daughter is a lesbian, and I am happy to have someone who wants her to have equal rights.”
Also in the crowd for the opening ceremony was Jocelyn Epson, who said it meant “everything” to her that Whitmer came to Pride to speak.
“She’s the first governor that gives a damn about everybody,” said Epson. “My next-door neighbor, my church friends, my school friends, everybody.”
Ferndale Pride Executive Director Julia Music said Whitmer’s visit marked the first time any governor had ever attended Ferndale Pride.
“The crowd was absolutely thrilled to see her,” said Music. “I think her record speaks for itself based on the crowd’s reaction. We know Michigan is not perfect for LGBTQ+ rights, but since her and several other elected officials have come into office, thing have moved forward quickly for us, and they have their sights on more protections.”