Michigan Information & Research Service Inc.
Michigan Information & Research Service Inc.

LGBTQ Legislative Caucus Could Hit 7 Members, Two-Plus Decades After First Openly Gay Lawmaker

08/08/22 02:21 PM By Team MIRS

(Source: MIRS.news, Published 08/05/2022) Michigan's LGBTQ-plus legislative caucus is anticipated to grow to seven members after November, more than two decades since the state had its first openly gay lawmaker arrive to the Capitol in 2001.


On social media, a photo's been circulating of Democratic state House candidates Noah Arbit, chair of the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus; Washtenaw County Commissioner Jason Morgan, Hazel Park City Councilmember Mike McFall, former Equality Michigan Executive Director Emily Dievendorf and Southfield City Councilmember Jason Hoskins.


All five won their respective Democratic primary races for the state House and all are in predominately Democratic districts, meaning their chances of winning election in November is high.


"Future LGBTQ caucus in the Michigan House of Representatives! (New members)," tweeted Morgan during Thursday evening, after he ran unopposed in the recent Democratic primary election.


His district – the new 23rd state House District including parts of Ann Arbor, Plymouth Township and the whole of South Lyon and Salem Township – has a 60.9% Democratic base going into the November general election.


Outside of Morgan, Arbit's 20th state House District has a calculated 55.1% Democratic base, McFall's 8th state House District has a recorded 79.4% Democratic base and Hoskins' 18th state House District holds a cited 79.5% Democratic base.


Dievendorf, a bisexual advocate and recent co-chair of the Michigan Advisory Committee within the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, will be competing in the new 77th state House District after winning in a three-person Democratic arena by 25 votes. Her Lansing-featuring district has a 61.5% Democratic base.


For former Kalamazoo Rep. Jon Hoadley, the photo reminded him of a picture he took with now-Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) after the two were elected to the state House in November 2014 – around seven years following when Michigan's first openly gay legislator Chris Kolb left the Capitol.


"(We) semi-jokingly took a picture together," Hoadley told MIRS. "And we called it the LGBT caucus because there were two of us, and it was the first time since Chris Kolb served that there were any openly LGBTQ folks serving."


The legislative caucus grew with term-limited Rep. Tim Sneller (D-Burton), who's openly gay, and Progressive Women's Caucus Chair Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) – the first openly bisexual individual elected to the state Legislature.


Moss and Pohutsky are well-positioned to be reelected in November, which would create a seven-person LGBTQ legislative caucus for the 2023-24 session.


"It really speaks to the fact that more elected officials are being honest about more parts of themselves when they run for office. I love the fact that this new, bigger, expanded caucus continues to grow," Hoadley said. "There's still a lot of historic firsts that we want to make happen here in Michigan, right? And it's because all people deserve to see themselves represented in the decision-making and policymaking bodies where they live."


Hoskins, who's served as Moss' legislative director, will also be Michigan's first openly gay Black lawmaker.


"I have routinely been in rooms where I was the only person of color and probably the only LGBTQ person in the room, and so it's something I'm kind of used to. It's something that I hope that we (will) change," Hoskins told MIRS.


He explained to MIRS he hopes to utilize the office to tackle various flaws in state revenue-sharing with local governments. He would additionally like to construct a network of students and people of color, providing them revamped resources to participate in political discussion.


As for how an extended LGBTQ caucus in the Michigan Legislature could be a historical phenomenon, Bill Ballenger of the Ballenger Report described it as "a long, slow time coming."


"It's been at least 20 years since the first person openly gay got elected. There were people before that suspected, but not publicly acknowledged," Ballenger told MIRS. "What's happening right before our very eyes is really a significant development."


Ballenger served in the state House from 1969 until the end of 1970, and then in the state Senate from 1971 through December 1974. He could name three lawmakers that were often suspected to be gay among their chamber colleagues.


However, during this pre-Kolb timeline, Ballenger illustrated that identifying as anything other than straight as "a kiss of death – you were kind of self-destructing if you said anything about that."


It was in 1983 when the late Rep. Jim Dressel, an Ottawa County Republican, co-sponsored legislation to safeguard gay and lesbian individuals from employment and housing discrimination.


After he died in 1992 from complications connected to AIDS, a newsletter printed around two months later in the Lesbian & Gay Community Network of Western Michigan shared that Dressel was gay and had worked hard to insist that a lawmaker's sexual orientation shouldn't matter when it came to expanding Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.


Fast forward to Arbit providing a victory speech after winning in his Oakland County-based district, consisting of communities like Keego Harbor, West Bloomfield and Commerce Township. To every LGBTQ youth in Michigan and in the United States, he said "there are many people in this life who will try to tell you what you are or what you can be."


He advised them not to "waste this one precious life," telling them he wasted far too much time hiding.


"I think that being a candidate has actually helped me affirm my LGBT identity, my gay identity, because I don't have the luxury of being a silent gay candidate. I don't have the luxury to not talk about these issues," he said. "I wouldn't be true to myself – I wouldn't be true to my community if I wasn't."


When asked what advice he'd give to the potential new members of a caucus he once described as "informal," Hoadley said they must continue to bring in new relationships and build new friendships across the aisle.


"Making sure we treat people fairly and equally should not be a partisan issue. Unfortunately, we've seen too much rhetoric moving into a disparaging direction," Hoadley said. "I think having seven folks identifying in the LGBTQ caucus across both chambers means that LGBTQ issues aren't going away."


Hoadley said those issues will hold a large place in driving Michigan's Democratic agenda. Meanwhile, in the separate interview, Ballenger said one of the next questions would be "when does a gay Republican get elected?"