The Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) held its Spring Endorsement Convention Saturday at Huntington Place in Detroit and left no doubt that Attorney General Dana Nessel tops the list of candidates who most impact the state’s LGBTQ+ community.
Nessel, who is the first openly gay person elected to statewide office in Michigan, is seeking her second term as the state’s top law enforcement officer. But even before she became Michigan’s AG, Nessel had an outsize role in championing causes close to the gay and trans communities.
While still in private practice as an attorney in 2012, she helped challenge Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, which was one of the four cases consolidated into the historic 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision that established marriage equality. As if to underscore her commitment to that cause, she famously proposed to her then-girlfriend, Alanna, outside the Supreme Court following arguments in the case. They are now married and raising twin sons.
But Nessel has been far more than just a symbol of equality. She has used her time in office to actively pursue justice on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community. Just last month she argued before the Michigan Supreme Court that the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) prohibits discrimination because of an individual’s sexual orientation. That case involved a hair removal business that denied service to a transgender woman; the State Court of Claims ruled that ELCRA did not include such protections.
Speaking to that very issue at Saturday’s Endorsement Convention, Nessel said she foresaw optimism on that front in the future. “And soon, at long last, I predict that LGBTQ people in our state will finally have equal rights in Michigan.”
However, the other top candidate on the Democratic ticket has similarly demonstrated a commitment to inclusiveness and justice for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced in 2019 that her office was revising the policy for changing the sex indicator on a driver’s license or identification card to make it easier for transgender people to obtain identification. According to a Secretary of State publication, studies show that nearly 81 percent of the transgender population in Michigan lacks proper identification.
While none of the other candidates seeking endorsement spoke to specific LGBTQ+ issues, State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) spoke to the issue while she projected hope for a Democratic majority in Lansing come 2023.
“We want to say once and for all that love is love and LGBTQ folks deserve to be protected under our civil rights laws, but across the country and here in Michigan, Republicans have introduced bills to limit LGBTQ rights,” she said. “The difference could not be more clear and the stakes truly could not be higher.”
While Sen. Chang’s message was meant to help fire up the approximately 1,000 party faithful present both in person and online, there can be little doubt that electing Democrats would provide the most benefit for gay and trans Michiganders.
Kristina Karamo, a Trump-endorsed Republican candidate for Secretary of State, has referred to LGBTQ+ “behavior” as “unnatural” and “extra filthy,” while Jon Rocha, a Trump-endorsed Republican candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives, says he will introduce legislation modeled after Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would ban “discussion, or dissemination of materials, that involves sexual orientation, gender identity, or any sexually explicit content, in kindergarten through fourth grade.”
Should the GOP retain its legislative majorities in Lansing, it is likely such a bill will make its way to the governor. If a Republican is there to greet it, there is little doubt it will become law.