The OutCenter Stands for Trans Rights in Michigan’s Courts


The OutCenter stands for trans people’s rights — and that includes their right to be referred to by their pronouns in Michigan’s courts.

In December, a Michigan Court of Appeals judge wrote that he objected to other judges referring to a defendant in accordance with their gender pronouns.

The defendant in the case People vs. Gobrick is a trans woman who uses the pronouns “they/them.” The majority of the judges on the case agreed to use those pronouns, but in Judge Boonstra’s response, he wrote, “This court should not be altering its lexicon whenever an individual prefers to be identified in a manner contrary to what society throughout all of human history has understood to be the immutable truth.” Judge Boonstra then refers to a purported quote from President Abraham Lincoln that states:  “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?  Four.  Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

The OutCenter has signed an open letter, along with many other pro-LGBTQ+ organizations like the ACLU of Michigan, Equality Michigan and Stand With Trans, saying that “Judge Boonstra’s opinion reflects both a lack of understanding and intolerance toward transgender people.” It’s one thing for Judge Boonstra to hold an opinion as a private citizen, but when he writes these sort of statements as a sitting judge, it sends a message to trans people that they won’t be treated with the same dignity and fairness as cisgender people in Michigan’s courts.

We believe Judge Boonstra’s response violates the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct: “Without regard to a person’s race, gender, or other protected personal characteristic, a judge should treat every person fairly, with courtesy and respect.”

We urge the judiciary and the bar to take this opportunity to invest in LGBT+ cultural competency training in Michigan. Every Michigander deserves equal treatment by our courts, including those in the LGBTQ+ community.

If you want to help, reach out to the Michigan State Bar and ask them to develop a style guide that clarifies the proper use of pronouns and invest in LGBTQ+ cultural competency training.

Below is the full letter. Read Judge McCormack’s response here:



Read more.

Bottled water in nenton Harbor

Benton Harbor Lead Crisis Info

For up-to-date information about the lead crisis in Benton Harbor’s water, including the latest schedule of bottled water pick-ups, frequently asked questions, and resources for residents who need help, visit

Volunteers are still needed to help distribute water. Visit for more info.

A dashboard updating progress on the replacement of lead drinking  water service lines in the City of Benton Harbor is now available on the city’s website for  public viewing.

To assist with ensuring the work can be completed as soon as possible, residents are  encouraged to complete the Water Service Line Replacement Agreement available  online. Contractors cannot begin work on any property without property owner  authorization. Completed forms can be returned to Abonmarche, 95 West Main Street,  Benton Harbor, MI 49022 or emailed to

Transgender Day of Remembrance

On Transgender Day of Remembrance, we commemorate the 310 trans people around the world whose lives were taken by violence.


Trevor Project

24/7 crisis hotline: 1 (866) 488-7386

OR text START to 678678

Trans Lifeline

(US) (877) 565-8860

(CA) (877) 330-6366

The Anti-Violence Project

Hotline (212) 714-1141



Victories in Class Action Cases Mean Social Security Survivor’s Benefits For Same-Sex Partners

Thanks to victories in two cases, Social Security survivor’s benefits will now be open to everyone, including all who suffer harm from discriminatory marriage laws, regardless of whether they have applied in the past.

The outcomes of Thornton v. Commissioner of Social Security and Ely v. Saul have important and positive implications for any surviving spouses or partners who were previously denied or who never applied for Social Security survivor’s benefits, either because they were not able to legally marry or were not married for long enough before their spouse died.

Thorton was a class action case filed on behalf of surviving partners who were unable to marry their partners in Michigan (prior to the marriage equality decision in June 2015) and therefore unable to apply for social security survivor benefits based on their deceased partner’s earnings.

Ely was filed on behalf of surviving spouses who were married less than the required nine-month period to qualify for survivor benefits, due to the fact that they couldn’t legally marry in their state.

In November 2020, federal district courts decided in their favor, but the federal government (under the Trump administration) appealed. Today Social Security has agreed to dismiss its appeals of these decisions.

What this means in a nutshell, is that if you are surviving spouse (age 60 or older, or age 50 with a disability) and your partner or spouse passed away before you were able to legally marry in Michigan (June 2015), and/or less than nine months after marriage equality was available in (March 2016) you may be eligible for survivor benefits based on your partner/spouse’s earnings.

See FAQs on Thorton and Ely below.





Why Data Collection is Vital for LGBTQ+ Patients

Data collection doesn’t sound like something that can keep people safe or make them healthier, but for the LGBTQ+ community, that’s exactly what it can do. 

MaryJo Schnell, the OutCenter’s Executive Director, recently joined Mosaic Health & Healing Arts, SAGE Metro Detroit, Michigan Hospital Association’s Keystone Center, Michigan State University and Michigan Public Health Institute (MPHI) for a state-wide webinar presentation to health professionals on LGBTQ+ informed care, and specifically how data collection can improve experiences for LGBTQ+ patients.

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A Message About Host Homes to All Schools in Cass, Van Buren, and Berrien Counties

As we head back to school, the OutCenter recognizes the hardships that LGBTQ+ students and all students living in our service area have faced over the past school year. For example, not all of our LGBTQ+ students are living in a safe home that encourages and supports their most authentic selves. We recognize, respect, and honor the unique position schools have when it comes to the safety of all students, including LGBTQ+ at-risk students. And in support of the work you do we’re providing you information on a recent program the OutCenter has been working on to end LGBTQ+ youth homelessness in our area. 

Continue reading here.

Content Warnings for Netflix’s new doc: “Pray Away” could cause harm to conversion therapy survivors

“Pray Away,” a new documentary about conversion therapy on Netflix, has been getting many glowing reviews — but most of those reviews are not coming from actual survivors of conversion therapy.

In a review from Paste Magazine (one of the few reviews that takes a critical look at the film), Jacob Oller writes, “Pray Away lays bare the evil, the self-loathing people behind [the conversion therapy movement] and—to a lesser extent—those who’ve survived it, while all too briefly nodding towards the powerful and inextricable ties between Christianity, capitalism and the ever-radicalizing political right that keep it alive. There is value in the hindsight found in the film, but it’s more often an off-putting test of our empathetic limits filmed as incuriously as possible.”

Content Warnings for this documentary include:

  • homophobia
  • transphobia 
  • familial rejection
  • conversion therapy testimonials
  • detransitioning testimonials 
  • derogatory language of transitional care 
  • self harm 
  • suicide 
  • mental and psychological abuse 
  • sexual assault 
  • mental illnesses, including depression and PTSD symptons 
  • death realted to AIDs and justification of such 
  • alcohol consumption
  • masturbation mention 

For more information about what survivors of conversion therapy, in particular, may find harmful about this film, click here to read more.

St. Joseph City Commissioner Election Questionnaire

With the City of Saint Joseph’s primaries approaching this Tuesday, August 3, 2021, the OutCenter of Southwest Michigan sent out a questionnaire to the 9 candidates running for the Saint Joseph City Commission. Those candidates include one incumbent, Michele Binkley, as well as eight challengers, Thomas Dean Jennings, Chris Lannert, Ben Rimes, Michael Sarola, Brook Thomas, Elizabeth (Bits) Thomas, Tess Ulrey, and Marc Williams. Each candidate was emailed three times and called once regarding completing the questionnaire, or their campaigns were messaged directly on their websites or other social media. 

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South Haven Mayoral & City Council Election Candidate Questionnaire

With the City of South Haven’s primaries approaching this Tuesday, August 3, 2021, the OutCenter of Southwest Michigan sent out a questionnaire to the 3 candidates running for the South Haven mayorship. Those candidates include Ahmmad Goodwin, Scott Smith, and Tim Stegeman and those running for City Council: Kam Daugherty, Wendi Onuki, Joe Reeser, and George Sleeper. Each candidate was emailed three times and called once regarding completing the questionnaire, or their campaigns were messaged directly on their websites or other social media. 

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Letter to the Chikaming Township Board of Trustees

We at The OutCenter of Southwest Michigan are so grateful to hear of the local efforts to pass non-discrimination ordinances (NDOs) throughout southwest Michigan! Whether an NDO passes or fails, any attempt to create a more equitable, safe, and even brave community is a great step forward for all people. According to MAP, only 31% of LGBTQ+ Michiganders are protected in private employment, housing, and/or public accommodations.

Congratulations to Three Oaks on passing their NDO on July 14th! The town joins Saint Joseph, the seat of Berrien County, and Buchanan in protecting all citizens from discrimination and harassment in their town. 

And while we are grateful for Three Oak’s progress, we are sad to hear about the news from Chikaming Township about not taking up the cause of an NDO, despite the supportive statements from constituents. To those leaders and community members who led this initiative, we thank you for fighting for not only the LGBTQ+ community, but the whole community!

Your work and dedication to protecting your LGBTQ+ neighbors not only helps protect LGBTQ+ people, but creates a greater sense of community, engagement, and safety for people of all ages. Even though we expect the Michigan Supreme Court to decide favorably for the LGBTQ+ community post-hearing the upcoming Rouch World v. Michigan Department of Civil Rights on the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (in October), nothing is more powerful in small towns and rural areas than local conversations – changing hearts and minds and policies.

For those wanting their town to become truly inclusive of LGBTQ+ people and their families, please know you do not have to go through this process of change-making alone. The OutCenter of Southwest Michigan is dedicated to making progress for the LGBTQ+ community throughout Berrien, Van Buren, and Cass counties. We will gladly leverage our many years of experience in political engagement and systems change initiatives to assist you in the process of developing and implementing an inclusive NDO in your town. 

Our mission is to provide support and advocacy for respect, understanding, and non-discrimination to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and allied persons and their families in Southwest Michigan. In 2020, we promoted or helped modify 422 LGBTQ+ inclusive policies & practices across Van Buren, Berrien, and Cass counties and organized 76 partner organizations to provide more robust and appropriate responses to LGBTQ+ inquires. 

If you are interested in making progress in your hometown and joining the more than 40 towns protecting the LGBTQ+ community across Michigan, please do not hesitate to contact us at and we will be happy to help!