© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

LGBTQ groups spotlight expanded civil rights to rally voters this election season

Person waving LGBTQ pride rainbow flag in crowd
Raphael Renter
/
Unsplash
The Michigan Legislature amended the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act this year to include protections for LGBTQ+ people.

LGBTQ Michiganders saw a major win this year when lawmakers amended the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Groups like Equality Michigan, which provides education, victim services and outreach to the state’s queer residents, are using the updated civil rights law to mobilize more voters in future elections.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with Emme Zanotti, the organization’s statewide director of advocacy and civic engagement.

Interview Highlights

On the coalition Equality Michigan formed in 2022

We didn't tell people who to vote for. We didn't tell them how to vote on ballot proposals. We simply went and talked to 225,000 what we call equality voters across the state of Michigan as a coalition, and we made sure they understood what was at stake last November and that equality was at stake and that their rights have been under attack. And they showed up.

On the voter mobilization happening in 2023

It's making sure they understood what happened when they showed up in a state legislature election in 2022 and how that positively impacted their lives. And the same thing is for municipal politics, right? Them continuing to show up not just in the big years, 2022 and 2024. But when you show up and in '23 and '25, we'll also see that start to happen in school boards. We'll start to see a push back against some of the anti-trans policies and legislation and rhetoric we've seen. And so, it's really the same message when you show up, good things happen in Michigan.

On the current legislative focus for Equality Michigan

Right now, we have a package of bills we're working on with Representative [Laurie] Pohutsky which will ease the legal name change process in Michigan, which will codify access to gender marker changes and nonbinary gender markers on driver's licenses and birth certificates in Michigan...

And we know that through that similar survey work from the National Trans Survey in 2015, that one-third of trans people who show an ID that has a gender marker that does not reflect the way they identify and express themselves, they are subjected to discrimination, harassment, and potentially even violence because of it. And so, we think this legislation can save people from that and potentially even save lives.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: LGBTQ Michiganders saw a major win this year when lawmakers amended the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Groups like Equality Michigan, which provides education, victim services and outreach to the state’s queer residents, are using the updated civil rights law to mobilize more voters in future elections.

Emme Zanotti is the organization’s statewide director of advocacy and civic engagement. She joins me now. Thank you be being here.

Emme Zanotti speaking into a microphone outsite
Courtesy
/
Emme Zanotti
Emme Zanotti is the Director of Advocacy & Civic Engagement at Equality Michigan.

Emme Zanotti: Excited to be here, Sophia. Thanks for having me.

Saliby: Looking back at the past year, can you talk about how your organization mobilized voters in 2022 and what kind of messaging you used?

Zanotti: 2022 was sort of an unprecedented year for the LGBTQ+ community. Not just in Michigan, but across the entire country. We've seen for a number of years now these attempts at passing anti-LGBTQ legislation, specifically in state legislatures across the country.

Increasingly, we saw every year kind of setting record numbers of legislation moving, and last year, 2022, turned out to be no different.

2023 has even escalated, right? We've seen over 500 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures across the country, and a record setting 83 or 84 of those pieces of legislation have been signed into law across the country.

What we saw that was unique in 2022 is it didn't seem like this was specifically a policy focus anymore, but a part of the political campaign of some sort, an assault on the LGBTQ community and an effort to try to divide different sorts of voting blocks at the ballot box by making sure certain people took stances against the LGBTQ community and voted that way.

What we saw that was unique in 2022 is it didn't seem like this was specifically a policy focus anymore, but a part of a political campaign of some sort. An assault on the LGBTQ community and an effort to try to divide different sorts of voting blocks at the ballot box by making sure certain people took stances against the LGBTQ community and voted that way.

This unprecedented attack led activists here in Michigan across the country, scrambling to try to find ways to respond in a way we certainly will never be kind of caught off-guard again on that front.

But here in Michigan, specifically, we did something unique and that probably hasn't been done in a long time. And that is to say, Equality Michigan, which is Michigan's largest statewide LGBTQ-specific political advocacy organization, we brought a range of nonprofits to the table across Michigan, mostly who focused specifically on LGBTQ work and LGBTQ constituent services, and said whatever baggage we have from the past, whatever things we've disagreed on or not worked well together on, we have to put that behind us because the community needs us at this point in time. And we need to rally our community and make sure they understand not just what's at stake on the ballot in terms of literally choosing between equality or inequality, but also helping our community members understand that they are influential, that they as a community and their allies and their friends and family members who they have conversations with can certainly make an impact.

We didn't tell people who to vote for. We didn't tell them how to vote on ballot proposals. We simply went and talked to 225,000 what we call equality voters across the state of Michigan as a coalition. And we made sure they understood what was at stake last November and that equality was at stake and that their rights have been under attack. And they showed up.

I think a result of them showing up is probably indicated on the very first day of this legislature, as you kind of alluded to, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act amendment was introduced. And that bill was signed into law by Governor Whitmer in March. State Senator Jeremy Moss, Michigan's first openly gay state senator, really led that legislation along with Representative Jason Hoskins, a freshman openly gay state legislator in the House.

And so, we don't just see the impact of what happens when LGBTQ people vote in terms of equality legislation being passed, we see the impact of openly LGBTQ elected officials driving that legislation. And so the impact can't be understated. And we'll certainly look to continue that work next year.

Saliby: Can you share more about how you're talking to LGBTQ Michiganders and their allies about why they should continue to vote?

Zanotti: Yeah, when we're talking to LGBTQ community members now and in 2024, the message for the first time really ever in Michigan's history isn't a message of you're voting to protect yourself or play defense for your rights.

It's a message that says, you voted in 2022, and because you showed up, you now have civil rights, licensed practitioners can no longer practice conversion therapy on minors in Michigan, and the governor established a statewide LGBTQ commission this year to help inform decisions and policy that impacts the LGBTQ community.

To be able to go back to those voters and tell them that you voted and it had positive consequences is a much easier conversation to have for why they should vote again in 2024.

And so to be able to go back to those voters and tell them that you voted and it had positive consequences is a much easier conversation to have for why they should vote again in 2024.

Saliby: What are you focusing on during this election since there are no major elections, just kind of local races?

Zanotti: In 2023, it's a lot of the same, right? It's making sure they understood what happened when they showed up in a state legislature election in 2022 and how that positively impacted their lives. And the same thing is for municipal politics, right?

Them continuing to show up not just in the big years, 2022 and 2024. But when you show up in '23 and '25, we'll also see that start to happen in school boards. We'll start to see a push back against some of the anti-trans policies and legislation and rhetoric we've seen. And so, it's really the same message when you show up, good things happen in Michigan.

Saliby: And looking at your organization's focus on legislation and policy. What kinds of bills and measures do you plan to focus on next?

Zanotti: Let me just start with when we talk about LGBTQ policies in Michigan, I think the attorney general, Dana Nessel, said it really well at the signing of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights bill when she said, "this is the first time in Michigan's history that we have passed a bill whose explicit purpose was to protect and enshrine rights for the LGBTQ community." I'm paraphrasing there, right?

Equality Michigan, we think we owe it to our most marginalized constituents or most historically marginalized constituents across the state, which happen to be trans people and trans people of color at this moment, specifically Black trans women, and we want to move legislation that helps protect them and keep them safe.

But that means we have a backlog of LGBTQ legislation we need to move in the state. And everyone's going to have a different perspective on what's a priority and we appreciate those perspectives.

Equality Michigan, we think we owe it to our most marginalized constituents or our most historically marginalized constituents across the state, which happen to be trans people and trans people of color at this moment, specifically Black trans women, and we want to move legislation that helps protect them and keep them safe.

Right now, we have a package of bills we're working on with Representative [Laurie] Pohutsky which will ease the legal name change process in Michigan, which will codify access to gender marker changes and nonbinary gender markers on driver's licenses and birth certificates in Michigan. Because we know that before Jocelyn Benson was our secretary of state, Michigan probably lead the country in the number of trans people who didn't have IDs that reflected the way they lived and identified at like 78%, right?

And we know that through that similar survey work from the National Trans Survey in 2015, that one-third of trans people who show an ID that has a gender marker that does not reflect the way they identify and express themselves, they are subjected to discrimination, harassment and potentially even violence because of it. And so, we think this legislation can save people from that and potentially even save lives.

Saliby: Emme Zanotti is with Equality Michigan. Thank you for joining me.

Zanotti: Thanks for having me.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!