The predicted Nov. 8 “Red Wave” that became a “Blue Tsunami” in Michigan brought some hopeful results, with the legislative future in Lansing essentially flipping from hostility to optimism for the LGBTQ+ community. Here are five takeaways.
1. Ballot proposals
Despite the millions of dollars and overflow of misinformation, voters came through and provided solid wins for all three proposals to amend Michigan’s Constitution. Obviously, Proposal 3 was at the top of the agenda for LGBTQ+ advocates as it dealt directly with bodily autonomy. As Pride Source noted in early October, at a time when transphobia is being used as a battering ram by the GOP, making sure the right to reproductive health care was secured was more important than ever.
However, the victories of both Proposal 1 and Proposal 2 also had significant implications for full and equal rights. Prop 1, which adjusts Michigan’s term limits, will hopefully help break up the revolving door of far-right partisans in Lansing with limited incentive for consensus building. Prop 2, which expands voting rights, will likely benefit Democratic candidates and causes, which include support for the LGBTQ+ community.
2. Michigan’s LGBTQ+ Legislative Caucus grows
With victories by newcomers Noah Arbit (20th State House District) and Jason Morgan (23rd State House District), the caucus of LGBTQ+ legislators in Lansing has grown to its largest ever at seven members. They will now join with incumbents like State Sen. Jeremy Moss and State Sen. Laurie Pohutsky to provide representation on a variety of issues, including permanently expanding the Elliott-Larsen Act to include the LGBTQ+ community. The growth of the caucus also stands as a rebuke of GOP efforts to paint the community as being outside the political mainstream, and evidence that the electorate is much more tolerant than current Republican orthodoxy would care to admit.
3. Democrats take charge in Lansing
For the first time in nearly 40 years, Michigan Democrats are poised to control both the Michigan House and Senate, as well as the governor’s office. This tectonic shift in power means the expanded LGBTQ+ Legislative Caucus will no longer simply be fighting the good fight, but fighting it with the power of the committee gavel on their side. No longer will Pride Month resolutions be delegated to dead-end committees while efforts to demonize trans kids be given a platform.
It also means significant progress can be made on issues like the aforementioned Elliott-Larsen Act. While the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in July it does encompass LGBTQ+ rights, placing it there permanently through legislation is the only way to ensure its continued inclusion. If the overturning of Roe v. Wade demonstrated anything, it’s that Supreme Court majorities come and go and non-codified rights could very well go with them. Having Democrats in charge of both the legislative and executive branch processes almost assuredly means that result will become a reality.
4. Dana Nessel doesn’t just win — she nails it
Heading into Nov. 8, the pundits consistently placed Nessel, an openly gay woman who helped usher in marriage equality, as being the least likely of the three Democrats heading up the executive branch to win re-election. Her 2018 win over Republican Tom Leonard was by less than three percentage points, and her outspoken advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights over the course of her first term was seen by some as making her politically vulnerable. So when she trounced Republican Matthew DePerno by nearly 10 percentage points on Tuesday, it was a vindication that unambiguous advocacy was not a liability, but instead a virtue that voters would reward.
To be fair, DePerno was his own worst enemy, having started off his campaign by threatening to jail Nessel if he was elected, and then growing increasingly unhinged after Nessel jokingly suggested “drag queens for every school” in response to continued GOP bigotry. Nonetheless, Nessel never wavered in her beliefs, nor did she try and be anything other than who she is. In the process, she more than tripled her margin of victory.
5. The fight continues
While there was plenty of good news and excellent results to celebrate from the Nov. 8 returns, there is also still plenty of work to do and bigotry to overcome. One big example of that was a seemingly insignificant library millage in West Michigan that failed to pass. Except it was highly significant to the LGBTQ+ community in that the Patmos Library in Ottawa County’s Jamestown Township was targeted by homophobic extremists earlier this year by a group that called itself Jamestown Conservatives whose members objected to the book “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” which they wanted removed from the shelves. Group members also harassed Library Director Amber McLain, who is gay. She ended up resigning after a woman came into the library and said she was looking for the person she called “that pedophile librarian.”
An initial millage failed in August, leaving the library to face having to close due to a lack of operating funds. So when the trustees decided to try a millage request again on Nov. 8, there was hope that the intense interest in helping the library, including from bestselling romance author Nora Roberts, would provide a different outcome. Alas, no. The millage again failed to pass and the library will now likely have to close its doors by 2024. There are many different stories that could stand as examples of work still to be done, but this one touches on a variety of important points.
Clearly, efforts to educate the public about the LGBTQ+ community must continue so that stories like “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” which recounts nonbinary author Maia Kobabe’s journey from adolescence to adulthood, aren’t viewed as so alien they automatically draw opposition. Secondly, the idea that books one disagrees with should be banned isn’t ideologically that far a leap to the idea that lifestyles one disagrees with should be banned. So this is about more than just a library’s funding. This is about freedom of thought and freedom of expression, which remain the most potent weapons against bigotry and ignorance.