The day before the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett began, LGBTQ Michiganders expressed concerns over how she might endanger their rights.
DETROIT, MI—Sunday was a day for celebration and commemoration for LGBTQ people around the world, and was recognized here in Michigan with a focus on the importance of voting in the Nov. 3 election.
Jenyce Poindexter is an LGBTQ rights advocate from Detroit. She was co-chair of the effort to get the Fair and Equal Michigan proposal on the November ballot before the historic summer Supreme Court decision made their proposal less urgent. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot at stake for queer Michiganders in November.
“Being a Black trans woman, I know the importance of this election. Black trans women are murdered and killed in the streets for sport every day,” Poindexter said. “It’s important for our quality of life, but it’s also important, at this point, for our survival. This election is very important.”
Poindexter helped assemble a virtual Get Out the Vote event featuring, among others, Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz, two openly gay actors playing openly gay characters on CBS’ flagship science fiction series “Star Trek Discovery.” That kind of event, she said, was what her community needed.
“I go to my constituents, my population, and make sure they’re encouraged, make sure the facts and the importance of being involved in the electoral system is so simple and clear that they have no choice but to be engaged,” she said.
That rally with Cruz, Rapp, and many others was held on a significant day for queer Americans: Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day.
What is National Coming Out Day?
National Coming Out Day celebrates the watershed moment in the life of an LGBTQ person when they announce their identity. This process isn’t done all at once, typically, but in slow stages across a person’s entire life as new acquaintances are met and decisions about sharing such personal information are made.
The Human Rights Campaign reminds LGBTQ Americans that coming out is still important in 2020, as people are statistically more supportive of rights for queer Americans if they can identify the loved ones in their lives whom those rights affect. National Coming Out Day still has a deep relevance to that effort. But there’s more to commemorating this past Sunday for the LGBTQ community than just announcing their identities.
National Coming Out Day has been around since the late 1980s, but gained an added somber note in 1998, when Matthew Shepard, a young Wyoming man, died the day after from injuries sustained when two men identified him as being gay, and beat him and tied him to a fence post, leaving him for dead. The incident became a dramatic moment in the timeline of the LGBTQ rights movement and prompted legislative action against hate crimes.
In many ways, this makes National Coming Out Day a measure of not just how far the LGBTQ community has come, but a remembrance of what was lost on the journey to bring them to this point.
And the 2020 election reminds us that the journey is far from over.
What’s at Stake for LGBTQ Michiganders
It was a Michigander, Aimee Stephens, who was at the center of the landmark Supreme Court case decided this summer that found that transgender people could not be fired on the basis of their gender identity. If that case took one more year rising through the court system, it might have been decided very differently.
Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett has regularly come down against the rights of LGBTQ Americans that the Supreme Court has granted over the past decade, from marriage equality to nondiscrimination rights that Stephens fought for. Her appointment to the Supreme Court was described as nothing short of an emergency for the civil rights of queer Americans, said the Washington Post.
That concerns Matthew Shepard’s family.
“If we have a court that is so set on not helping marginalized communities achieve equality I think we’re all in trouble,” said Shepard’s mother, Judy, on MSNBC. “Parent to parent, mom to mom, I would say ‘Amy, if your child comes out as gay I hope you understand that’s who they are. It’s not their choice, it’s nothing you did, people are people.’ … We’re all humans trying to fight for the same things, which [are] acceptance and a good life and safety in our workplace and our homes.”
And it’s part of a broader picture worrying Michigan legislators. State Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo), who is running for Congress, stressed the risks LGBTQ Michiganders face.
“Our lives are on the ballot,” Hoadley said. “The protections that we have in Michigan that are only granted through those Supreme Court cases could be at stake. That’s why it is critical that we’re electing pro-equality advocates up and down the ballot.”
He’s supporting Joe Biden. Biden plans to enshrine the treatment of LGBTQ Americans in policy and law, but more critically, he plans to collect the data needed to ensure the safety and security of queer Americans. As The ‘Gander reported early in the pandemic, health experts suspected transgender Michiganders faced similarly disproportionately dire outcomes from the coronavirus to Black Michiganders, but there just wasn’t data on the subject; no one made collecting that data a priority.
Beyond that, should Barrett join the Court and pose that threat the Post warned about to LGBTQ Americans, Biden has pressed for action to continue those protections without relying on Court decisions. He’s called for the passage of the Equality Act as a movement in that direction.
“No one should be fired, denied a home or access to services because of who they are or who they love,” Biden said in 2019.