In a battle to get Michigan’s Republican-controlled Senate to recognize June as Pride Month, the state’s only openly gay senator is reminding us who and what drives the movement.
MICHIGAN — Michigan’s Senate established and recognized Dairy Awareness Day, but not Pride Month around the state.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer officially declared it a holiday in Michigan this year, but resistance from Michigan’s Republican-controlled Senate leaves LBGTQ communities still fighting for recognition.
Leading the way to make it an official holiday is State Sen. Jeremy Moss, the only openly gay senator in Michigan.
Moss introduced alongside Gov. Whitmer an amendment to the Eliott-Larson civil rights law in Michigan that would add protections against discrimination for LBGTQ Michiganders.
“The Senate refuses to take up not only an amendment to Eliott-Larson but a Pride Month resolution just declaring that [LBGTQ] people contribute to the state of Michigan,” Moss said. “We’ve passed resolutions to declare Apple Month and Ice Cream Month and Craft Beer Month and Dairy Awareness Day but we can’t get any recognition from the majority that our lives contribute to the fabric of the state of Michigan.”
This year, Pride Month has dovetailed with demonstrations of anger and grief over the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of police. Black Lives Matter and Pride have had moments of solidarity nationwide.
In Kalamazoo, for instance, Black Lives Matter and Pride demonstrations joined together June 6 to recognize the intersectionality of marginalized communities, MLive reports.
“We’ve seen, in broad daylight, the murders of transwomen. We’ve had so many murders that it was a silent pandemic,” Marshall Kilgore, a candidate for the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Education, told MLive. “Thank god, she still has her life, but the video is just like the George Floyd video for me. It’s gut-wrenching.”
Kilgore was referencing Iyanna Dior, a transgender woman who appeared in a viral video showing a group of men beating her outside a convenience store in St. Paul, Minnesota just a week after Floyd’s death.
“We gotta speak up for these people too because black gay lives matter, black trans lives matter and sometimes we’re pushed to the back,” said Kilgore. “If you’re black and of the [LBGTQ] community, you’re hit the hardest.”
Moss noted that this intersectionality goes back to the birth of the LBGTQ rights movement. The Stonewall riots began June 28, 1969 with a Black transwoman named Marsha Johnson resisting arrest by police, who used New York City’s refusal to give alcohol licenses to bars serving LBGTQ clients as an excuse to raid gay bars without warning.
“It’s very intersectional. Many of these issues afflict minority communities across the board,” said Moss. “That is definitely something that I think the [LBGTQ] community can find partnership within the broader African American community in fighting this fight together.”
He encouraged people to take on change on an individual level, like Johnson did.
Being the Change
One of the few accomplishments the LBGTQ community has made in the last year has been the landmark Supreme Court decision The ‘Gander reported was hard-won by Michigander Aimee Stephens.
Moss pointed out that Aimee Stephens had to seek relief from the Supreme Court because efforts to pass employment nondiscrimination through Congress have not gained traction. This is a broad failing of political institutions to protect LBGTQ rights.
“It’s very clear that institutions aren’t defending us, so if I have to be the singular individual speaking on behalf of our community in the State Senate, I’ll do it and I’ll do it loudly,” Moss said. “I’m fine, make them uncomfortable. Make them uncomfortable and sit and listen to aggrieved minority communities and the rights that we don’t have that they do.”
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Moss recounted a story about hearing casual use of highly charged homophobic language describing a child, and the impact it had on him.
“I’m walking by this gentleman while he’s on the phone, he’s talking to whomever he was talking to, talking about how he doesn’t want his friend to have faggot kids,” Moss told The ‘Gander. “That sanctions that type of behavior in the state of Michigan when the State Senate doesn’t stand up and say [LBGTQ] people in this state provide value at minimum and at minimum shouldn’t have to walk down the street and hear someone berate their friend’s children and call them faggots.”
Moss said he’s still digesting that experience. That harsh language is something he has personally been aggrieved by, and he hopes that his story reaches legislators across the aisle during the current cultural moment, as the Senate fails to declare Pride Month following Gov. Whitmer’s lead.
June is LBGTQ Pride Month, both an act of celebrating differences and defying systemic oppression. Both of those themes are important this June in particular. Recognizing this, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared June 2020 Pride Month.
“This Pride Month, we are reminded that the beginning of Pride was not a celebration, but a protest to be seen, heard, treated equally, and allowed to live fully and authentically,” she said in a statement. “I know that this year’s pride is different than the ones before, not only because of COVID-19, but because we are being reminded that, while we have made progress, we still have so much work to do.”