This op-ed originally appeared in Between the Lines on 03/17/23
With Gov. Whitmer holding a signing ceremony in Lansing this week, members of Michigan’s LGBTQ+ community were given a major milestone to celebrate while also being emphatically shown that they remain a prime target for those hoping to score political points by fueling bigotry and sowing hate.
The reason for celebration came after an overwhelming majority in the Michigan House voted to amend our state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) on March 8 to explicitly include LGBTQ+ people. With the Senate already passing the same legislation, Gov. Whitmer quickly signed the bill into law on March 16. This culminates nearly 50 years of effort to explicitly add sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to ELCRA, making Michigan the 22nd state to have civil rights laws that are LGBTQ+ inclusive.
It is a tremendous victory that deserves to be hailed. But, one day after the House vote, an exclamation point was put on the undeniable fact that the work to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people in Michigan is far from done.
My euphoria over the passing of this historic legislation was quickly dampened the next day when I saw a posting on social media from the Oakland County Republican Party, which was encouraging people to attend a protest outside the Sidetrack Bookshop in downtown Royal Oak for hosting a “Drag Queen Story Hour” for children. In the eyes of the Oakland GOP, a drag performer reading a children’s story to kids is somehow a massive threat to society.
The protest was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, taking place when story hour was scheduled to occur. Along with providing insight to a right-wing political agenda that includes the continued demonization of LGBTQ+ people, it also showed how out of step with the mainstream that despicable tactic is, and how it can be overcome.
The ACLU of Michigan, along with many LGBTQ+ and allied social justice organizations, immediately began mobilizing their membership and constituents to show support for both the story hour and the bookstore. Those mobilization efforts paid off in a big way.
While there were about a dozen protesters, hundreds of people showed in support of drag performers, story hours and the bookstore with signs that read “Protect Kids from Guns, Not Drag,” “Teach Literacy Not Intolerance” and “Reading Is Fundamental — Bigotry Is Not.” The counter-demonstration was a resounding display of support for diversity, inclusion and tolerance.
I think both events reflect the current state of LGBTQ+ equality in Michigan
Right now, we are fortunate to have a governor, attorney general and secretary of state — along with majorities in both houses of the Legislature and on the state Supreme Court — who are supportive of LGBTQ+ rights. This provides an unprecedented opportunity to make great public policy strides for our community in our state.
Yet, at the same time, we cannot ignore the growing number of attacks we are seeing in other state legislatures, where LGBTQ+ youth and transgender adults are being targeted.