Michigan State Rep. Candidate Noah Arbit on How His Identity as a Gay, Jewish Person Guides His Democratic Values

'We have to do a much better job of telling a story to voters'

By |2022-07-07T14:56:09-04:00July 7th, 2022|Michigan, News|

Noah Arbit, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to represent Michigan’s 20th State House District, may be gay and Jewish, but he says he’s much more than that. 

Not that Arbit isn’t fiercely proud of being both. In fact, he said the Hebrew phrase “tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” a passage from Deuteronomy that means “justice, justice shall you pursue,” is in many ways what guides him.

“My identity is incredibly important to me,” Arbit told Pride Source. “It’s also incredibly important to my community. I am running in the most Jewish district in Michigan. I think that’s really important. It’s also important to me to be a force multiplier in terms of the already stellar representation that we have for the LGBT community.”

The newly drawn district, which includes West Bloomfield, eastern Commerce Township, Orchard Lake, Keego Harbor and Sylvan Lake, has been represented by Republicans for the last 20 years, something Arbit hopes to see change in 2022.

If elected, the 26-year-old Arbit would also be the youngest-ever LGBTQ+ person elected to the state legislature (Toni Mua, 25, a transgender woman, is also running as a state representative). However, he’s managed to establish a sizable resume of accomplishments that go well beyond his sexual identity or religious affiliation.

He cut his teeth in politics working on Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 and then served as a staffer on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 2018 campaign. Whitmer, he said, is “genuine. She’s strong, but she’s also kind, and that’s the kind of leader that I believe in.” He was also director of communications for Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald.

Following the October 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the deadliest attack on the Jewish community inside the U.S., Arbit founded the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus, which seeks to combat the rising tide of antisemitism and elevate Jewish voices within the Michigan Democratic Party.

In fact, Arbit said the two most disorienting days of his life were the Pittsburgh shooting and the 2016 Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando.

“To feel that as I walk through this world as a gay Jewish man, that there is a target on my back for a lot of different reasons, is something that, especially now with the Supreme Court being the way it is, feels vulnerable for me,” said Arbit.

In fact, Arbit said the recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has made it clearer than ever that all of our rights are interconnected.

“If we’re not fighting for women’s rights, then we can’t fight for gay rights,” said Arbit. “If we’re not fighting for gay rights, then we can’t fight for the rights of Black kids. All of these things are so connected. And I think my number one criticism of the Democratic Party is that one day we’re talking about abortion, the next day we’re talking about guns and the next day we’re talking about gays. The fact is that we have to do a much better job of telling a story to voters.”

The story that Arbit believes needs to be told is one that he said is grounded in reality, not one exclusively about any single issue.

“It’s not about guns,” he said. “It’s not about gay people. It’s not about any of this. It is about one thing: This is a shared project of the radical right, which wants one thing, and one thing only. They want the foundation of our laws to emanate from a 2,000-year-old book. They want, basically, to institute theocracy in this country. That is what they want, and I think we have to share that story and not be afraid of sharing it.”

Arbit said he is in a good position to tell that story because whether the assault is on abortion rights or gay rights, it’s an attack on his religious freedom, noting that Jewish law stipulates that abortion is not only permissible but required in certain circumstances.

“It’s freedom of religion and from religion.” Arbit said, although he was quick to add he is not anti-faith.

“I believe that faith is something that grounds so many people,” he added. “It impacts how they move through life and navigate through this world, and it’s just sort of the foundation of their existence. For me, it provides a foundation for my service and my desire to be involved in advocacy.”

Arbit believes that the combination of faith and politics has had a bad rap, especially on the left, because of the way Republicans use faith in politics as a cudgel against other people. 

“What I am trying to do is put a new face on faith and politics, and try to get people to see, especially Democrats and progressives, that if we’re not speaking to people of faith, then we’re leaving a large piece of our coalition out of the picture that could be with us on so many things,” he said.

While advocacy is an essential part of his character, Arbit said providing critically needed representation to marginalized groups is equally important. He notes that he didn’t come out as gay until February of 2021, just months before he made the decision to run for office.

“As difficult as I had it, gay kids and trans kids now have an entire political party that is basically telling them that they don’t belong and that they don’t deserve to exist, and they should be ostracized and marginalized,” said Arbit. “I think being a candidate has actually helped me affirm my LGBT identity because I don’t really have the luxury to just be a quiet gay candidate.”

Arbit said the Republican candidate he anticipates will win the August primary, Diana Mohyi, is giving voice to the very hate he is determined to stand against.

“Her top issue is defending women’s sports from extinction at the hands of transgender youth,” he said. “That’s exactly how she puts it, in those words, and I think that is just unconscionable. These sort of attacks on a vulnerable, already marginalized community are just reprehensible.” (When asked to comment in her own words, Mohyi told Pride Source that, “It is important for biological women to have fair opportunities to compete in sports so that they can earn scholarship and use sports as a vehicle to get out of poverty. Requiring biological women to compete against biological men fails to ensure that.”)

Arbit said his pursuit of justice was also informed by the fact that when he was barely 18 years old, he testified against a sexual predator who had assaulted him and others. 

“I kept thinking, looking at the jury and looking at their faces, ‘What if they knew I was gay?’,” he said. “Then maybe they would give the defense argument that it was consensual more credibility. I always think about that because, even if you’re not gay, everyone knows what it’s like to have their identity be in some way a vulnerability for them.”

Arbit said that while he didn’t recognize it at the time, that experience is really what propelled him into politics. The experience required him to advocate for himself, but also to help make sure the perpetrator couldn’t hurt other people in the community. “I’m exactly, right here right now, where I’m supposed to be,” he said.

“And I think that’s what I need to be doing. It’s not about what we build. It’s about the lives we touch and making sure that my efforts are trained on how I can help others and how I can be of service to others and how I can be part of pursuing justice in my own community.”

Learn more about Arbit’s campaign at noahformi.com. Early voting has begun. Election Day is Aug. 2.

About the Author:

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.