As the nation’s eyes fell on Detroit last week for the Democratic presidential primary debates, Democratic LGBTQ leadership took advantage of the increased attention on the city to congregate and discuss some of the key issues facing LGBTQ Americans in the U.S. in a forum at Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters. Those in attendance included Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof, LGBT Detroit Executive Director Curtis Lipscomb among others.
The National Stage
Democratic National Committee LGBTQ Engagement Director Ted Jackson kicked the event off with a few words about the importance of the meeting.
“Very briefly, the LGBT Caucus is one of the more important caucuses as you can imagine. At the DNC we raise a lot of money, but we also expect our issues to be addressed,” he said. “… If you look at 2016 … we made some very important benchmarks and we’re looking to increase those benchmarks. So we went from 2012 and 2016, 7.9 percent of the delegates being LGBT to 11.5 percent. We increased from 550 to 600 delegates. And that’s amazing because we have fewer delegates in ‘16 than in ‘12. And most importantly, we doubled the amount of transgender delegates from 14 to 28 and we want to double that once again.”
Before introducing the Democratic National Committee CEO Seema Nanda, Jackson went on to emphasize that the current LGBTQ platform adopted by the Democratic party was the most affirming one in the nation’s history, but that there was still much work to be done. Nanda agreed, pledging the Democratic Party’s support for the LGBTQ community and pressed on the point that the 2020 election is “the most important election of our lifetime.”
“And we have everything at stake in this election. We have our environment at stake, education, jobs, our democracy is at stake, is on the line. And yes, our civil rights are at stake in this election,” Nanda said.
She further cited examples of the Trump Administration’s anti-LGBTQ actions like opposition to the Equality Act, banning transgender service in the military, repealing an Obama-era rule to protect federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and more. Nanda called attention to the fact that the Democratic Party is organizing earlier in the election process than ever before and intentionally so.
“We are laying infrastructure. I am so proud of our Organizing Corps 2020 program,” she said. “We have 300 paid organizers this summer on the ground in seven battleground states. Forty-five right here in Michigan organizing every day, 77 percent diverse, nearly 100 percent local, paid $15 an hour and 26 percent identify as LGBTQ. That is the Democratic Party and that is what I mean by infrastructure and organizing growing.”
Nanda finished her remarks by emphasizing that the goal of the DNC was to rebuild trust and focus on transparency in this election cycle.
Focusing on Michigan
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel was the first of the Michigan-based speakers. Like Nanda, she pointed to the anti-LGBTQ actions of the Trump administration but also to the legal victories against some of the actions that have been won by her and the 26 other Democratic AGs across the U.S. Commenting on the general public’s “inundation” of regularly distressing news, Nessel asked the crowd to focus on one issue specifically: The Department of Health and Human Services’ rule that gives health providers the right to refuse service based on conscience.
“And the fact of the matter is that if this law is allowed to be implemented, what it means is that states like Michigan will lose billions and billions of dollars if health care providers are not permitted to discriminate against LGBTQ people. And when you talk about the United States turning into a theocracy, I don’t know a better example of it than that,” Nessel said. “But I am here to tell you that myself and the other 26 Democratic AGs are going to be out there tirelessly, working as a team to fight against each and every one of these policies and we are not going to stop.”
She left the stage with a push for the crowd to support pro-LGBTQ and equality candidates “so we can finally take back this nation and have it be a nation again that really subscribes to the notion of equal protection under the law for all Americans.”
Winterhof followed Nessel’s address. She focused her time calling for action to persuade Michigan’s equality voters — those likely to vote Democrat — to the ballot via grassroots organizing. She attributed HRC’s efficiency in its own organizing to helping secure many of the wins in the 2018 election but pointed to more work to be done for 2020.
“As we think about progress and what we’re going to do, guess what? We have to do more. So, as an organization that’s what we’re going to do. We know that your state keeps landing on all the lists, so we will be here with you in partnership,” Winterhof said. “We know that Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and Arizona and many other states are going be on the list to help us make change in the White House and I will say this: … we don’t just want to help win elections because it’s fun — it is fun — but we want to help win elections because our community needs protections. Half of this country for LGBTQ people is not protected.”
The State’s Nonprofits
Equality Michigan’s Executive Director Erin Knott followed, starting her address with a sobering reminder of the inequalities that LGBTQ Michiganders regularly face.
“This year alone Equality Michigan has served 267 people, individuals, LGBTQ community members that have experienced violence, discrimination or harassment. Thirty-two of those individuals suffered from serious acts of violence because of their gender identity or expression,” Knott said. “The previous speaker talked about how leadership doesn’t see the acts of violence that are happening in our transgender communities of color, [and] it’s because they refuse to see it.”
Knott gave an example of House Speaker Lee Chatfield stating that discrimination and harassment in Michigan’s LGBTQ community doesn’t exist despite those statistics, underlining not only the need for sexual orientation and gender identity protections in Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, but for voters to mobilize to the polls come November 2020. As Knott left the stage, she was followed by a fellow Michigan nonprofit executive director Curtis Lipscomb who heads LGBT Detroit.
Lipscomb’s primary focus was reminding those in the room of Detroit’s ongoing HIV epidemic, particularly in the city’s LGBTQ community of color.
“It’s still here, it didn’t go away. We’ve gathered the modern LGBT movement around our health crisis,” Lipscomb said. “We’ve had some successes, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
He finished his statement by encouraging everyone to visit LGBT Detroit’s recently expanded campus to learn more about the work being done to combat HIV and a host of other issues.
Affirmations LGBTQ center’s Executive Director Dave Garcia followed Lipscomb. The emphasis of his address was on community centers rethinking their lack of involvement in political movements.
“The community center has a role to play in political action and advocacy. It always has, since the time of Act Up, and it certainly has to do it today. Next month, we’re going to be launching Aff-Advocacy programs. Anybody who wants to get involved and become an Advocate and organize can be a part of that program,” Garcia said. “Look, in Los Angeles when the President [Trump] won the election, we started a mobilization squad. Hundreds and hundreds of people joined that mobilization team because they wanted to fight back. We have a responsibility as the community center to organize them, to train them to go and provide testimony. Who can give stories better up in Lansing or in D.C. than the LGBT community center and the people who walk through our doors?”
State Rep. Jon Hoadley was one of the event’s final speakers. Currently running for Congress, if elected Hoadley would become the first openly LGBTQ member of Congress from Michigan and would flip a key swing seat for the Democrats. The race for Michigan’s 6th Congressional District is among the most closely watched 2020 Congressional races.
“We’re all familiar with the idea that if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu, but here’s the deal: sometimes just getting to the table isn’t enough,” Hoadley said. “We know that with the incredible organizations like the Victory Fund, HRC and Equality Michigan, people are mobilizing people to make sure we go vote in elections. People are making sure people are at the table, that’s why we broke incredible glass ceilings in this last election.”
Hoadley pointed to Dana Nessel’s election as the first out AG in the state’s history. However, Hoadley also emphasized a need to keep pushing for more elected officials across the state.
“There are people who are still actively trying to take away our rights. That’s why we have to be at the table, we have to elect not only out officials but pro-equality candidates up and down the ticket and I am so thankful that we have friends in Lansing and in D.C. that are getting that done,” he said. “It’s about putting our dreams and aspirations back in front of the conversation because we deserve to be part of the American feast just like everybody else.”
Final words were delivered by Lavora Barnes, the MDP chair.
“We decided after 2016 to never be caught flat-footed standing still again. We’ve been knocking doors and making phone calls almost constantly,” Barnes said, adding that over the course of just this summer more than 12,000 homes were visited by on-the-ground organizers. “… Here’s my ask of you: We have days of action with these kids, we have days of action with our organizers, come out and join us. Knock some doors with them, help them understand some of the work we do. Help teach them and then thank them, tell them how great they’re doing because that’s how we get them to come back and do the work they’re doing.”
To find out more about the MDP visit michigandems.com