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LGBTQ+ leaders say ‘there’s a lot at stake’ for Michigan in the 2024 election

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LGBTQ+ leaders say ‘there’s a lot at stake’ for Michigan in the 2024 election

Jun 22, 2024 | 8:47 am ET
By Lucy Valeski
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Michigan LGBTQ+ leaders say ‘there’s a lot at stake’ in the 2024 election
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Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, talks at a roundtable about LGBTQ+ rights in the next election in the Grand Rapids Pride Center on June 21, 2024. | Lucy Valeski

LGBTQ+ rights advocates and Michigan lawmakers sat on colorful wooden chairs and mismatched couches during a roundtable discussion Friday evening. They are in the Grand Rapids Pride Center, on the eve of the city’s annual Pride parade. 

The state and national leaders gathered to discuss the upcoming election, including how to get voters to show up and cast their ballots for leaders who support LGBTQ+ rights. 

“There’s a lot at stake this year,” said Chasten Buttigieg, who grew up in Michigan and is married to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “… I think so much of it is just rooted in whether or not our lives will be made better and safer because of the choices that we make. I might get back to the day where I can focus a little bit more on what’s happening and what my toddlers are doing in the living room and not so much worrying about whether or not our family will be able to exist.”

Democrats control both chambers of the Michigan Legislature, in addition to the governor’s office. Since claiming this trifecta for the first time in about 40 years, lawmakers have passed numerous progressive priorities, including protections for the LGBTQ+ community. 

LGBTQ+ leaders say ‘there’s a lot at stake’ for Michigan in the 2024 election
Chasten Buttigieg, author and husband of Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeig, discusses why he thinks it is important to elect Democratic leaders in the Grand Rapids Pride Center on June 21, 2024. | Lucy Valeski

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson told the Advance the organization is advocating to keep the Michigan Democratic trifecta after the 2024 election cycle, in addition to electing national progressive leaders. 

“When I think about the state of Michigan, the thing that makes it such a beacon for me is that you have been able to show what it looks like to engage your community, to build on the power of people that we know are with us on these issues, to fundamentally change the dynamics in the state,” Robinson said during the roundtable discussion. 

State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) and Planned Parenthood of Michigan President Paula Thornton Greear also were part of the roundtable. 

Motivating voters may be a struggle for Democratic candidates in the 2024 election. In 2022, when Democrats took control of the Legislature, abortion rights was also on the ballot, which is a large motivator for women voters, according to a recent poll from KFF, a health policy research organization.  

Women in states like Michigan, who already have state-level protections for abortion, are less motivated to vote this year, the poll found. 

Emme Zanotti, the advocacy and outreach director of Equality Michigan, said the organization has already started recruiting voters for the 2024 election. She said the organization contacted tens of thousands of Michigan voters in 2022 and hopes to reach even more people in 2024. 

“It’s really like every single door we knocked on, every pledge to vote we collected at Pride, every text message someone sent or phone call someone made,” Zanotti said. “It might not be as sexy, but I also consider that the revolution.”

It is also important to connect people’s personal struggles with politicians trying to solve them ahead of the election, Robinson said.

“What we’ve got to do is make sure that they understand that there’s people out there that actually have a solution and want to work for them and want to fight with them, and make sure that they get to see and talk to those folks, so that’s really what a lot of the work is right now,” Robinson told the Advance

LGBTQ+ leaders say ‘there’s a lot at stake’ for Michigan in the 2024 election
State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) discusses Michigan legislation that supports the LGBTQ+ community during a roundtable in the Grand Rapids Pride Center on June 21, 2024. | Lucy Valeski

Policy matters to voters, lawmakers say

Five Democratic members of the state House spoke about how their constituents responded well to progressive legislation lawmakers passed in the last 18 months. 

Pohutsky, a member of the LGBTQ+ House caucus, gave an overview of bills the Legislature passed that protected LGBTQ+ Michiganders. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation expanding Michigan’s anti-discrimination law to include LGBTQ+ people last year and banned conversion therapy for minors. Additionally, funding for LGBTQ+ health centers appeared in the state Fiscal Year 2024 budget for the first time. 

The Senate also passed a ban gay and trans panic defenses Thursday. The defense excuses crimes, like assault, of an LGBTQ+ person because it lets the perpetrator blame their identity. The bill will head back over to the House.

Pohutsky also touched on legislation that could still be passed, including making it easier to legally change names in Michigan. Ximón Kittok, the executive director of Grand Rapids Trans Foundation, said the policy would help remove barriers for transgender people across the state. 

“I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that this legislation will be life-changing and life-saving for a lot of folks in our community,” Kittok said. 

Pohutsky said the bills’ passage is partially due to how many more openly LGBTQ+ lawmakers serve in the Legislature.

“We also elected the largest LGBTQ caucus in the history of the state,” Pohutsky said. “And that’s been huge, and it’s been really transformative in how we’re able to talk about these issues.”

State Rep. John Fitzgerald (D-Wyoming) attributed part of his campaign success to people being more empathetic to the LGBTQ+ community now. He said his constituents wanted more progressive policies, like gun reform, and have positively responded to the Democratic majority. This productivity from the legislature could help Democrats retain a majority in the next cycle, Fitzgerald said. 

“I think that that’s what really people felt attached to in kind of our mission in 2022 was to just make our community stronger, better, more accepting, more supportive of people in their own personal journeys,” Fitzgerald said. 

 

Issues like reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights motivated voters to show up to the polls and elect people who would support them, state Rep. Phil Skaggs (D-East Grand Rapids) said. He said campaigning on supporting the LGBTQ+ community helped elect the Democratic majority, which has been able to pass legislation to protect them. 

The passage of more bills protecting Michigan’s LGBTQ+ community also let people open up about their experience with topics like conversion therapy, said state Reps. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids) and Kristian Grant (D-Grand Rapids). 

But it takes privilege to even know about policy and be able to easily vote, said Jazz McKinney, the executive director of Grand Rapids Pride Center. They said many people who use the center as a resource don’t know about the legislation because they are navigating more existential problems, like unaffordable housing and mental health challenges. 

“I think it’s hard because especially a lot of community members I serve, they’re so busy trying to survive,” McKinney said. “I don’t know if any of the community members that I saw today would have known that this [ban on gay panic defense] passed yesterday in the Senate.”

McKinney emphasized the importance of intersectionality and passing legislation that would directly help everyone in the LGBTQ+ community.

“It’s kind of like ‘yes, and,’” McKinney said. “Yes, we need these high level things, but we have to also think about that intersectionality piece and how these things are impacting the way we’re literally trying to just survive.”