by Laina G. Stebbins, Michigan Advance
A new report shows that a record number of LGBTQ+ people are now serving as elected officials across the country, including in Michigan, with many leaders inspired to fight against increased threats against LGBTQ+ rights.
Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute that issued the report, said it is “no coincidence this ‘year of hate’ coincides with a record number of LGBTQ+ elected officials serving in public office, from school boards to Congress.
“The courage of LGBTQ+ lawmakers fighting these hateful bills proves this backlash has not and will not deter our community,” Parker continued.
During the last legislative session in Michigan and beyond, lawmakers introduced anti-LGBTQ+ legislation to exclude trans athletes from school sports. GOP candidates, like former gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon, made anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and issues key parts of their 2022 campaigns.
However, they were not successful. Democrats, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, were reelected to all top statewide offices, and the party also flipped both chambers of the Legislature.
The number of out, LGBTQ+ elected officials serving in the U.S. increased by 68% over the past five years, LGBTQ+ Victory Institute’s report says, rising from 698 in 2019 to 1,174 in 2023.
That includes seven state lawmakers currently serving in Michigan, all Democrats: state Sen. Jeremy Moss (Southfield) and state Reps. Mike McFall (D-Hazel Park), Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield), Jason Morgan (D-Ann Arbor), Jason Hoskins (D-Southfield), Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) and Emily Dievendorf (D-Lansing) — along with other elected officials, like Attorney General Dana Nessel.
The LGBTQ+ Victory Institute released the report on Sunday, April 2, a date the group celebrates each year to commemorate Kathy Kozachenko becoming the first out LGBTQ+ person to ever be elected to office in the United States. Kozachenko was elected to the Ann Arbor City Council on April 2, 1974.
“The increased number of LGBTQ+ people serving in elected office makes two things extremely clear: That the majority of voters do not support the attacks on our community and that we won’t stand by silently as those attacks seek to strip us of our rights and our safety,” said Pohutsky, who is the state’s first openly LGBTQ+ female lawmaker.
The D.C.-based group’s report also highlights an increase in the proportion of LGBTQ+ people of color serving in the U.S., which increased 10% from 2019 to 2023. Black/African-American/Afro-Caribbean representation increased by 186% and Latinx representation increased by 116%.
Hoskins, the first openly gay person of color to serve in the Michigan Legislature, said that voices like his “have been missing from the table for too long.”
“I’m elated we have the largest LGBTQ+ Legislative Caucus in Michigan’s history but we cannot and will not rest,” Hoskins told the Advance. “In Michigan and across the nation, attacks against the LGBTQ+ community, particularly the trans Community, have intensified. We are one movement and an attack on trans people is an attack on all LGBTQ+ people.
“With these gains for LGBTQ+ elected officials nationwide, together we can make this world a safer and more compassionate one for all.”
The increased number of LGBTQ+ people serving in elected office makes two things extremely clear: That the majority of voters do not support the attacks on our community and that we won’t stand by silently as those attacks seek to strip us of our rights and our safety.
– State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia)
The report goes on to note that LGBTQ+ women have seen increased representation, including trans women (which now number 41 nationwide), and representation for non-binary and gender nonconforming people has increased by 300%.
This new year marks the first time a nonbinary person has served in the Michigan Legislature, with the election of Dievendorf.
In Congress, there are now 13 LGBTQ+ lawmakers compared to 10 in 2019. In state legislatures, the number of lawmakers increased by 55% — from 147 in 2019 to a record 228 in 2023. LGBTQ+ representation in local government saw the greatest increase, with an 83% increase from 394 in 2019 to 721 now.
“After years of struggling with my identity, I am proud to serve as the youngest openly LGBTQ+ person ever elected to the Michigan Legislature,” Arbit said Monday.
“I am even prouder to serve as a member of the largest-ever LGBTQ+ Caucus in the history of the Michigan Legislature. Together, we are writing a new script for LGBTQ+ political representation in Michigan and placing the rights and welfare of Michigan’s LGBTQ+ community at the forefront of our legislative agenda.”
Moss, the state’s first openly gay senator, said he has witnessed a significant shift over the last few years in terms of acceptance for LGBTQ+ members running for office.
“I think we shifted quite a bit, even from the time that I first ran for office a decade ago, where the risk to a candidate was running as an openly gay candidate. I think now, the risk is running as an openly homophobic candidate,” Moss told the Advance. “We had a massive shift in the dynamics there.”
Moss notes that he also celebrates April 2 as a commemoration to Kozachenko’s election nearly 50 years ago.
“As this movement was happening, Ann Arbor was one of the beating hearts of this movement,” he said.
Last month, Whitmer signed a Senate bill sponsored by Moss to expand Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include LGBTQ+ rights. Advocates had been trying and failing to expand the act for decades.
“The voters are tired of politicians who espouse hateful and divisive rhetoric because they’ve run out of policy ideas,” said McFall. “I’m grateful to the Michiganders who saw through it and voted for change and equality.
“While we celebrate today, we can not rest because the fight for equality is never over. We’ve made a lot of progress with LGBTQ rights so far this legislative session, and I look forward to being involved in continuing that progress.”
This story was written by Laina G Stebbins, a reporter for the Michigan Advance, where this story first appeared.
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