DETROIT — A treacherous ice storm and a 9 a.m. Sunday morning start time did not deter over 150 people from attending the LGTQ&A Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party meeting April 15 at Cobo Hall. Mark LaChey, the caucus' chair, presided over an energetic meeting that featured a steady stream of candidates all seeking to garner the support of the caucus and its members. LaChey also led a delegation of 110 people at the Legacy Dinner the night before, making the LGBTQA Caucus the second largest group of attendees at the annual fundraiser, after the Labor Caucus.
LaChey opened the caucus meeting by announcing that dozens of candidates wanted to speak including many openly LGBTQ candidates.
"This year we have a record number of 20, by my current count, openly LGBT candidates running for office at all levels of government," said LaChey. "That includes three statewide candidates too – Dana Nessel for attorney general and two openly LGBT candidates for university trustee, Sue Carter at MSU and Wade Rakes at the University of Michigan. And there are two openly LGBT State Senate candidates – Garnet Lewis on the western side of the state and Jeremy Moss in Southfield."
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow made the LGBTQ&A Caucus her first stop of the morning. She said our community is under attack at all levels and it is important to her and for all other Democrats to stand up now for fairness and equality.
"This community is under attack and it doesn't matter if it's from the county level, or the state level or the federal level. I'm a proud sponsor of the Equality Act. It doesn't matter if it's Betsy DeVos or Health & Human Services or Jeff Sessions or who it is — their gut instincts are just plain wrong. I think they are immoral. And so this is a moment for all of us whether it is healthcare or marriage equality or equality for everyone in the justice system," Stabenow said."
The important thing is for us to be focused and know who's side we all are on as Democrats and whose side they are on — whether it's this governor and what he has done, or the [Michigan] attorney general who has done every awful amicus brief you can imagine attacking marriage equality, to the affordable care act to women's reproductive rights – it doesn't matter," Stabenow said. "We know in the end there is a line here between what we believe in and what they believe in."
All three of the leading candidates for governor addressed the caucus, including former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, former Detroit Health Department Director Abdul El-Sayed and retired Ann Arbor businessman Shri Thanedar. Each one pledged to champion the cause of amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections for LGBTQ people.
"I'm not the usual candidate for governor – I know that. People tell me all the time, 'Abdul it's not that we disagree with what you have to say. It's just that you are a little bit young. You're also a little bit brown and a little bit Moslem – how's that gonna work out for you?'" he said jokingly. "My child identifies as trans. When are we going to have leadership that says that no longer will we allow it to be legal to discriminate against people like him. We will stand up and amend Elliott-Larsen so every Michigander belongs!" he said to loud applause and cheering.
"That fool in the White House hasn't demoralized us – he's energized us," said Witmer. "So a lot of you know me from my 14 years of fighting in the Michigan Legislature. I'm proud of the work we tried to do, but we were in the minority the whole time I was there. And you know what – I'm done being the leader of the resistance. I want us to be the ones setting the agenda!," she said.
Dana Nessel brought her whole family – her wife and two sons – to the podium as she passionately addressed the caucus.
"The is what Michigan families look like," she said.
Best known for her role in representing the DeBoer–Rowse couple in one of the cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 that guaranteed marriage equality, Nessel said that as Attorney General she will fight hard every day to protect the rights of LGBTQ people in Michigan.
"LGBT issues are not just one of many for me. It is part of who I am and you can rely on me to always fight to protect LGBT people from discrimination, every day all day," she said. "Not just when it is politically convenient."
Elissa Slotkin is running for Congress in the 8th District against incumbent Republican Mike Bishop. She shared an emotional story about her mother who came out as a lesbian late in life, but who was unable to marry her life partner before her death in 2011.
"There is no contradiction between caring about the economy and caring about social issues," said Slotkin. "And we as a party must do better to explain that to anyone who thinks that false choice exists. Because it is breaking us apart and we must fight against it."
Statewide candidates for Supreme Court Megan Cavanagh and University of Michigan law professor Sam Bagenstos addressed the caucus as did Jocelyn Benson who is running for Secretary of State.
At one point there were so many candidates waiting to speak that a group of over 20 candidates for the Michigan State House came up together, led by our three openly gay state representatives: Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo), Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) and Tim Sneller (D-Flint). To flip the state house of representatives the Democrats need to pick up nine seats. Each introduced themselves and said they were energized, excited and enthused about the future Michigan House of Representatives becoming controlled by the Democrats.
"We talk about a blue wave – can we actually do a wave?" asked Hoadley as he got the crowd on their feet in a stadium-style wave. "We have to get our energy going because we are going to win in 2018! We are doing the work to bring an opportunity-for-all agenda. And that means we have to focus all the way down the ticket because we have seen time and again our issues getting siphoned off by the Republican majority."
As the meeting ended LaChey was recognized with enthusiastic applause for his work in building the LGBTQ&A Caucus into its current strong position within the Michigan Democratic Party.