Michigan Supreme Court Upholds Civil Rights Protections to LGBTQ+ Citizens

OutCenter Southwest Michigan is overjoyed by the Michigan Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the Rouch World v. Michigan Department of Civil Rights case. In a 5-2 decision the court held that the existing Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act applies to LGBTQ+ people. This new ruling upholds protection of LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in employment, housing, education, and public accomodations which includes businesses. It cannot be overstated just how impactful this decision is for equity in our state and here in Southwest Michigan.

Anyone who is LGBTQ and discriminated against in Michigan has an upheld legal remedy in court.

In a statement following the announced decision Governor Whitmer addressed the historic nature of this decision, “Today, Michigan is more free and fair than it was yesterday.” 

It is victories like this that show just how important it is to be a registered voter and to vote in every local, state and federal election. And you must be aware of the positions of all candidates, INCLUDING JUDGES. The Michigan Supreme Court has a progressive majority for the first time in 20 years. This is because people knew the history of the candidates and voted in support of equity and the rights of LGBTQ+ people.

We must make our voices heard at school board meetings, city council meetings, and in voting booths during these challenging times.

To get involved with our local advocacy and organizing efforts, click here
To register to vote, or check your registration status, click here
To join the statewide #HateWontWin initiative, click here

The Fight to Protect Reproductive Rights in Michigan Continues!

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, we began our harrowing journey towards getting reproductive rights added to our state constitution in Michigan. The organizers in our State led the most effective campaign to protect these rights in the nation, the results of which were incredible. Our efforts to ensure that reproductive rights make it on the November ballots were successful, thanks to all the hard work that Michiganders put in canvassing and signature collecting. This ballot initiative made history, with 753,759 signatures spanning across every single county in Michigan! We hit the goal necessary to get the issue on the ballot, as well as a generous amount of signatures to act as a buffer in the case of any invalid signatures. This measure will be on your ballot in November, thanks to all of your hard work.

But the fight isn’t over.

Now that the measure has qualified with the necessary signatures it will be on the Midterms ballot in November 2022. If 51% or more of voters vote “yes”, the amendment will be added to the state constitution. It’s up to us to finish what we started! We need to make sure everyone is registered to vote, informed about the initiative, and has a plan for election day this November. Reach out to your friends, family, and neighbors to help us get this vital amendment past the finish line. Everyone’s voice matters right now.

If you would like to register to vote, click here
If you would like to join our Tag Me In initiative and be a part of important work like this, click here

Michigan Senator Mallory McMorrow Speaks Out Against Recent Attacks

Michigan Senator Mallory McMorrow delivered a passionate speech on April 19th addressing the recent political attacks she has faced by opponents of LGBTQ+ rights. In a fundraising email, a fellow Michigan senator claimed that McMorrow is grooming and sexualizing children by defending the LGBTQ+ community. Other comments accused McMorrow of supporting pedophilia and wanting white children to feel responsible for slavery. In response, Senator McMorrow said “I sat on it for awhile wondering why me, and then I realized, because I am the biggest threat to your hollow, hateful scheme. Because you can’t claim that you are targeting marginalized kids in the name of “parental rights” if another parent is standing up to say no.”

“I want every child in this state to feel seen, heard, and supported, not marginalized because they are not straight, white, and Christian.” She concluded, “I know that hate will only win if people like me stand by and let it happen.”

It is so incredibly important for us to engage with the systems in our community and speak out against hateful speech if we want to move towards a better future. If you would like to get involved with what the OutCenter is doing in Southwest Michigan, visit our Tag Me In page to sign up!

Governor Whitmer Joins the Fight to Defend Women’s Rights in Michigan

Last week Governor Whitmer filed a historic lawsuit with the Michigan State Supreme Court. As the U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to dismantle the protections afforded by Roe v. Wade, Governor Whitmer is taking action to protect the right of Michiganders to reproductive healthcare and abortion. She is asking the State Supreme Court to overturn Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban, a law which would go back into effect if Roe were to be overturned, and recognize reproductive healthcare as a human right in the state constitution.

In a statement, Governor Whitmer stated “If Roe is overturned, abortion could become illegal in Michigan in nearly any circumstance—including in cases of rape and incest— and deprive Michigan women of the ability to make critical health care decisions for themselves. This is no longer theoretical: it is reality.” According to polling data from this year, nearly 66% of Michigan residents support repealing the 1931 “trigger law” and over 77% believe abortion should be an individual’s decision.

This is just the most recent of a series of actions that have been taken to protect Michigan in this time of uncertainty. If you are interested in getting involved with what the OutCenter is doing to protect reproductive healthcare rights, visit our Tag Me In page and sign up!

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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Pride Returns to Benton Harbor!

The OutCenter of Southwest Michigan is hosting Lake Effect Pride, as a “Pop-Up,” on June 26th from 2 – 4 pm, in the greenspace between The Livery, Mason Jar Cafe, and The OutCenter; and we hope the community will “pop in” to celebrate Pride! 

This is the first time Lake Effect Pride will be outside, and we invite the community to join us for the event. If possible, we ask for attendees to RSVP here. This is a family-friendly event, and the first 30 children will receive a free Swag Bag. The Center will also be selling Pride and Lake Effect Pride limited edition merchandise throughout the event. You can ensure that you have Pride merchandise waiting for you at the event by pre-ordering here

Space is provided by Prairie Real Estate and food will be provided (for sale) from food trucks Silly Sausage and Nola Roux; and beer (for sale) will be provided by The Livery. Meet and greet some of our sponsors who will be at the event, as well as OutCenter board members, staff and program facilitators. Music and radio coverage at the event will be provided live by Zack East and 98.3 The Coast. 

Our Gold Sponsors this year include @Properties, Bronson Healthcare, Comcast, Conybeare Law Office PC, DC Cook Nuclear State, Gast Manufacturing, Horizon Bank, Lakeshore Inn, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Silly Sausage, and Whirlpool Corporation. Our Silver Sponsors this year include 108 Yogi Kate, Apothica Teas, Mason Jar Cafe, Michigan Shoe Repair, Peat’s Cider, Pilgrim Congregational UCC, The Livery, Temple B’Nai Shalom, Zoovolution. Our Bronze Sponsors this year include Accents- Himalaya Textiles, Citadel Dance & Music Center, Forte Coffee, Full Circle Cafe, Small Town Wedding, Three Pillars Music. 

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage unvaccinated Lake Effect Pride attendees to wear a mask. We encourage all attendees to respect social distancing, sign in upon arrival (for contact tracing if needed), and to follow all guidelines provided by the State of Michigan. We encourage the entire community to pop in, but also to be considerate for all attendees present and abide preferred social distancing. For those uncomfortable with an outdoor gathering, donations, support, and merchandise can be picked up or dropped off via a car drive by! 

The OutCenter of Southwest Michigan’s mission is to provide support and advocacy for LGBTQ+ people and their families in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren Counties of Southwest Michigan. Learn more about this mission at Lake Effect Pride by connecting with a Program Facilitator or head to our website

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Leading the Way: Sam Moyle

As shocking anti-LGBTQ bills progress in legislatures across the country, LGBTQ kids are stepping up to advocate for awareness, equity and inclusion at the local level: in their schools. Among them is Sam Moyle, rising senior at Lakeshore High School in Stevensville, and incoming president of Prism, the school’s GSA, this fall.

In March, when a Lakeshore teacher posted an acid, inaccurate comment on Facebook about teachers’ bathrooms being repurposed for the sole use of “one or two” trans students – and others chimed in with comments suggesting violent means of addressing that situation – students, teachers and graduates were shocked. Moyle and other LGBTQ students at the school were frustrated – and scared.

“There was a lot of talk and not a lot of action,” following the incident, Sam recalled. After a brief suspension, the teacher returned to the school. “It sparked the realization of how uncomfortable trans students in particular are at Lakeshore. It seems like the comfort of the majority of students is prioritized over providing respect and security for LGBTQ students,” Moyle said.

Recalling a presentation that OutCenter executive director MaryJo Schnell made to the school about inclusion and diversity, Moyle emailed her a letter and then picked up the phone and called her to ask for help. “Seeing my friends really upset – that upset me a lot,” Moyle recalled. “That made me take action. It came from the anguish of a lot of other people.

“I wanted adult support beyond our small group and our advisor. I wanted to see if there was someone who cared about the situation and could help us somehow better understand the community in which this was allowed to happen,” Moyle said.

Schnell talked to the administration. She also helped GSA members understand the origins of transphobia and possible steps the GSA could take to be more visible and seen.

While the school superintendent told the Herald-Palladium of his plan to form, by the end of the school year, a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leadership Team including staff, students, board members, parents and community members, Moyle said they waiting for visible effort and establishment of the team in the community and at Lakeshore High School.

Moyle is looking forward to being back in “real” in-person rather than virtual school this fall. And they hope they and their peers can find ways to make LGBTQ students seen and respected by teachers, staff and their peers.

“Once teachers and staff recognize and respect LGBTQ kids the other students will, too,” Moyle said. Her hopes for the year?

Her top goal: “Creating a community where hate speech and bullying is not tolerated,” Moyle said. “Right now there is a lot of fear about speaking up,” they said. “I would love it if more students would speak up about things they are concerned about or things they feel should change, and communicate that to the administration.

The more people who come forward and speak about these issues, “The better things will get,” Moyle said.

“The real hindrance to acceptance and respect at Lakeshore is the devaluing of

LGBTQ+ voices.”

Let the OutCenter know about affirming and inclusive businesses and organizations in our area

The OutCenter of Southwest Michigan prides itself on being a resource for the community, and we know that we are not the only resource in our area that cares for the LGBTQ+ community. 

We regularly work to keep our record of LGBTQ+ inclusive businesses, practices, nonprofits, et al, updated and now, we will be promoting these groups as affirming and brave spaces for LGBTQ+ people and their families across Berrien, Cass and Van Buren Counties!

If you represent a resource in Southwest Michigan that is both affirming and inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community, please fill out this form. We will follow up with you and explore adding your organization to our resource guide. 

We aim to better serve the community by recognizing the services that also work to make a safe and inclusive SWMI for the LGBTQ+ community. 

Thank you for your submission! 

If you know of an organization that should complete the form, please send them this link to it: https://forms.gle/HYytTsyfH9DKrtcu5

We stand with Lakeshore High School in support of transgender and nonbinary students!

Today, March 12, 2021, the OutCenter of Southwest Michigan was made aware of a school staff member posting hateful comments about transgender students, and a student’s right to safely use facilities in the school. The OutCenter stands with school leaders, administrators, staff, and educators to ensure the safety and well-being of all students, including LGBTQ+ students and especially transgender, nonbinary, and intersectional identities.

We work with schools because EVERY student across our area deserves a safe school to go to and access to safe and appropriate facilities that match their identity. Also, because LGBTQ+ youth:

  1. Are more at risk for bullying, family rejection, and ostracization by their faith and geographic communities. 
  2. Sixty-one percent are more likely than their non-LGBTQ+ peers to feel unsafe or uncomfortable as a result of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. 
  3. Eleven to thirty percent of LGBTQ+ students, due to a lack of safety, did not go to school at least one day during the 30 days before a recent CDC YRBS survey. 
  4. And the numbers skyrocket for transgender and nonbinary youth, especially BIPOC. We’re talking self-harm, risk of suicide, substance abuse, et al, as they seek safety and acceptance for who they are with their schools.

The OutCenter has worked with schools across Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren Counties, developing affirming, safe, and even brave schools for LGBTQ+ students. In fact, in 2020, the hardest year for the organization in its history, the LGBTQ+ Safe Schools Collaborative, funded in part by the United Way of Southwest Michigan, impacted:

  • 20 schools, Berrien RESA, Van Buren ISD, and the Berrien County Family Courts Division
  • 52 stakeholders who participated in our LGBTQ+ Safe Schools Workshop
  • 282 family members & school staff who were provided guidance and support regarding their LGBTQ+ child and/or student
  • 350 students through participation in their LGBTQ+ school clubs
  • 11,454 youth of all identities in elementary through college age through this work

The OutCenter provides access to additional support through these important programs on HIPAA-compliant platforms. 

What can you do?

  • Contact Lakeshore Public Schools and thank them for their leadership!
  • Contact your school and/or school district (whether or not you are a parent) to set up a meeting with leadership to review their policies about LGBTQ+ inclusion, especially inclusion of transgender and nonbinary students. Feel free to reach out to the OutCenter for guidance.
  • Attend School Board meetings to provide an informed and allied voice for the safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ students. Feel free to reach out to the OutCenter for topics.
  • Vote in every election for those who will support inclusive, save and brave schools including LGBTQ+ students, especially transgender, nonbinary and intersectional identities. 

Teen Pride Program Helps Build LGBTQ+ Leaders

The OutCenter’s Teen Pride program is rebooting this year with a new focus in response to  COVID-19 and community feedback. 

The OutCenter’s Teen Pride program is rebooting this year with a new focus in response to  COVID-19 and community feedback. 

The OutCenter plays a pivotal role in helping students in the tri-county area to feel connected to  a community that accepts them for who they are and helps them to be their best selves today and  into their future. Rather than bringing students to the OutCenter, the Teen Pride program will  bring the OutCenter to them. When Teen Pride was established in 2014, it was the only LGBTQ+  student club for Middle and High School students in the area. Since then, the OutCenter has  assisted 16 different schools in developing clubs of their own.  

Studies have shown that GSAs have positive impacts on a school’s culture and quality of life for  LGBTQ+ students. Other research finds that: 

• All students in schools with GSAs feel safer in their schools.  

• LGBTQ+ students involved in GSAs are more likely to attend college. 

• LGBTQ+ students involved in GSAs are less likely to suffer from substance abuse and loneliness.  

A number of students and staff have reached out to the OutCenter seeking support in setting up,  sustaining and transitioning their clubs from year to year. In response, program coordinator Alex  Cross (they/them) has developed a series of summits to assist student leaders in starting their own  Genders and Sexualities Alliance (GSA) organizations. 

Through extensive research, Alex has strategized meaningful solutions to common problems  students face when organizing GSAs. Some of these roadblocks include uncertainty in starting  a GSA, developing a yearly calendar of events, recruiting and retaining members, and fear of  administrative blowback. 

Led by Alex, these summits will cover these topics and will take place at three key check-in points  throughout the year: 

• September/October summits will provide students with the tools they need to confidently and  effectively start either their virtual or in person GSAs. 

• January summits will offer a mid-year check-in and guidance on transitioning leadership for the  coming year. 

• May/June summits will celebrate their successes during the school year and review their work  and impacts, using insights and findings to plan for next year. 

For more information, please contact The OutCenter at teenpride@outcenter.org. 

The OutCenter of Southwest Michigan’s mission is to provide support and advocacy for LGBTQ+  people and their families in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren Counties of Southwest Michigan.