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!

Michigan Youth Lead March Against “Don’t Say Gay” Bill

On Monday Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis signed the controversial “Parental Rights in Education” bill, known to many as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The vague bill provides a wide net for anti-LGBTQ+ action within Florida schools, saying “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” This will not just effect kindergarten through 3rd grade students, but instead will have a chilling effect on all classrooms as teachers try and uphold the nebulous standard of “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” LGBTQ+ students, on average, come out to their teachers and classmates up to a year before they do so at home. This bill not only makes it harder for teachers to speak on queer topics but also specifically targets this trend, endangering students health and well being by requiring teachers to ‘out’ LGBTQ+ students to their guardians with no consideration for the students wishes or safety.

This bill is part of a national trend that is targeting and bullying LGBTQ+ students through school and government policies. Across the country we are seeing anti-LGBTQ+ groups, political figures, and pundits organize to make the lives of LGBTQ+ people, especially students, more and more difficult. From harassing student athletes to censoring teachers we are seeing hate weaponized in our civic and social institutions. It’s not just happening in Florida and Texas but all across the country, including the state of Michigan. This is why we launched our Tag Me In campaign to get more community members involved in local advocacy.

One of our partner organizations, Prism Detroit, is sponsoring a student led march in solidarity against Florida’s Don’t Say Gay Bill. We are inspired by the student’s desire to stand up for their peer’s rights while also showing their community leaders where they stand. If you are in the Detroit area we strongly encourage you to join them on Friday, April 1st.

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!

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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OutCenter Releases Statement Regarding the Coup Attempt on January 6, 2021

January 7, 2020, Benton Harbor, MI – The OutCenter of Southwest Michigan is appalled by the recent events in the nation’s capital. We are committed to calling the violent mob what it was: a coup led by insurrectionists that had been encouraged by the President of the United States to reject a formal and legitimate practice of certifying the electoral college votes. Our hearts go out to Washington DC’s residents who are now under emergency order until after the inauguration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and Vice-President-elect Kamala D. Harris; our hearts also reach out to the families of the four people who died in the coup attempt yesterday. 

Our friends at Funders for LGBTQ Issues couldn’t have said it any better: “We are shocked but not surprised. We’ve heard the escalation in rhetoric over the past four years of the Trump Administration, rhetoric with roots in the ugliest parts of our national history. Black, indigenous, people of color, immigrants, women, LGBTQ people, and those of us at the intersections have been the targets of these white nationalists and insurrectionists, and for too long the threat against us has not been taken seriously. We are angered by the hypocrisy of law enforcement and the obvious disproportionate criminalization of BIPOC, queer, and trans people. The stark difference in law enforcement response to largely peaceful protests for racial justice compared to the complacency and collusion of law enforcement we witnessed yesterday is appalling.” Read their full press release here.

We echo our Governor’s call to “put the election behind us,” but more importantly, we call on everyone to remember how many people voted for “leaders” who are not devoted to equity, equality of justice. We also ask everyone to continuously recognize that white supremacy is alive, thriving, and extremely dangerous in our country. The United Way of Southwest Michigan’s 21 Day Equity Challenge is a great way to become much more aware of racism within our family and work cultures. Continue your journey with Lake Michigan College’s MLK Celebration week and our Social Justice Reader’s program. It is imperative that we struggle against White Supremacist violence, unfounded conspiracies, and blatant disregard for the lives and the well-being of others in schools, places of business, and towns across this country.

We must keep the work of antiracism in front of us and see very clearly how differently BLM protestors were treated in 2020 compared to how yesterday’s domestic terrorists were treated by law enforcement in our highest halls of justice and diplomacy. 

We call on Michiganders to keep the truth of the election results in front of us and denounce conspiracy theories in family gatherings, online conversations, and wherever they are mentioned. 

2020 Candidates Questionnaire & Responses

As many Michiganders’ mail-in ballots are starting to arrive and election day is fast approaching, we wanted to share some of your local candidates’ stances on LGBTQ+ policy issues. We asked candidates on the federal, state, and local levels to answer questions pertaining to key issues of importance to LGBTQ+ individuals and their families. Candidates were given six weeks to respond to the questionnaire and were contacted by phone and email multiple times by our team of dedicated volunteers.

The 2020 candidate questionnaire reads as follows:

  1. Knowing that the recent Title VII decision from the Supreme Court only covers workplace discrimination, would you support an amendment to the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act that would add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as protections from discrimination for the Michigan LGBTQ+ community?
  2. Michigan’s hate crime law currently covers violence and threats based on race, color, religion, and gender. Would you support the enactment of a hate crime law that would also address hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people to the same extent as the current Ethnic Intimidation Code within Michigan’s Penal Code?
  3. Would you support a religious freedom law or any similar efforts that provide opportunities for people, businesses, non-profits, et al., to deny services, sales, and/or goods to LGBTQ+ people? 
  1. While Michiganders wait for the expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, a number of Michigan municipalities have passed their own ordinances to protect their LGBTQ+ citzens from discrimination.
    1. Will you recognize and support non-discrimination ordinances already established in our area, in the towns of St. Joseph and Buchanan?
    2. Would you continue to support the expansion of ordinances that would make discrimination in public accomidations against LGBTQ+ people unlawful in municipalities in Berrien, Cass, and/or Van Buren counties (the OutCenter’s service area)?
  2. Understanding that reparative/conversion therapy have been discredited by every mainstream medical and mental health organizations for decades and proven to target and cause serious harm to LGBTQ+ youth, would you support banning reparative and/or conversion therapy in the State of Michigan? In municipalities in Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren counties?
  3. Do you support the Michigan’s State Board of Education and Michigan Department of Education’s approved recommendations and guidance for schools in Michigan, with the goal to establish safe and supportive learning environments for LGBTQ+ and questioning students, in schools in Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren counties? And, if so, would you support these recommendations becoming mandatory?
  4. Would you fight any attempt to ”water down” a bill giving the LGBTQ+ community rights by those who add riders (e.g. religious rights) that realistically negate LGBTQ+ rights?
  5. Given the recent federal administration’s lack of support of transgender affirming healthcare, will you support legislation to protect trans individuals’ healthcare?
  6. Understanding the recent federal court decision in Buck v Gordon and the importance of safe foster and adoptive homes in our state, would you support legislation that prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals attempting to adopt children through services that are funded (partially or fully) by the state of Michigan?

To view the candidates’ full responses, download and view the PDF below.

We want to extend a wholehearted thank you to all of the candidates who responded to this important questionnaire. Your transparency and participation mean a lot to your constituents.

Michiganders, now that you are informed on your candidates stances on key LGBTQ+ policy issues, go out and vote! Whether you vote from home or make an appearance at the polls, your vote is your voice.

To support the OutCenter in political, educational, and advocacy work, please consider donating here.