Study: Michigan electing more LGBTQ+ local officials, still far off from equity

By: - August 2, 2021 4:55 am

Susan J. Demas

LGBTQ+ representation in elected offices has taken big strides in the last year nationwide, especially on the local level in Michigan, according to a recent study. 

A report by the Victory Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to help LGBTQ+ people get elected to office, shows that nationally there are 986 openly LGBTQ+ people currently in office, which is a 17% increase in the last year. As the Advance previously reported, there was a record number of LGBTQ+ candidates running in the 2020 election.

In Michigan, there are three openly LGBTQ+ state lawmakers: Rep. Tim Sneller (D-Burton), Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) and Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield). 

Statewide, there are 37 known LGBTQ+ elected officials, including two mayors, 28 local elected officials, three judicial elected officials and the attorney general. Michigan fares better than neighboring states Ohio, which has 31 LGBTQ+ elected officials, Wisconsin (22) and Indiana (12). But the Great Lakes State lags nearby Pennsylvania (54) and Illinois (43).

In 2020, the Victory Institute reported that there were 31 known LGBTQ+ elected officials, including three mayors, 20 local elected officials, three judicial elected officials and the attorney general.

Michigan only saw an increase of LGBTQ+ representation at the local level this last year, but Erin Knott, who’s Equality Michigan’s executive director and an LGBTQ+ member of the Kalamazoo City Council, said that growth is promising for state offices in coming years. 

“Local elected officials are part of the pipeline, and several folks go from serving in their local city commissioner council to maybe county commission and then on to state legislative positions,” Knott said. “So it's important that we keep the farm team, if you will, of LGBTQ+ members of the community engaged in public service.”

A majority of Michigan’s LGBTQ+ elected officials are Democrats. Tobias Hutchins, president of the Fennville Public Schools Board of Education, is the lone Republican on the list. 

In November 2018, Michigan elected Attorney General Dana Nessel, making her the first openly gay top official in the state.

There is still a ways to go until the number of elected officials reflects the LGBTQ+ population across the country.

Since June 2020, the number of LGBTQ state legislators has increased from 160 to 189, an increase of about 18%.

However, only .2% of elected officials in the U.S. are LGBTQ+, compared to 5.6% of adults in the country identifying as LGBTQ. In order to reach equitable representation, there would need to be 28,116 more LGBTQ+ people elected to office nationwide.

“While LGBTQ elected officials are growing steadily in number, at this pace it will still take decades to come anywhere close to achieving equitable representation in government,” said Mayor Annise Parker, president and CEO of the Victory Institute. “This lack of representation has enormous consequences, because LGBTQ elected officials are best positioned to defend against anti-LGBTQ legislative attacks and to change the hearts and minds of colleagues in supporting inclusive policies.”

From June 2020 to June 2021, bisexual representation nationwide increased by 37%, queer-identified elected officials increased by 83% and the number of trans women in elected offices grew by 71%. 

White LGBTQ+ elected officials grew dramatically slower than all other racial and ethnic groups, with Black LGBTQ elected officials growing at the fastest pace in the last year with a 75% increase.

However, white LGBTQ+ elected officials remain overrepresented, representing nearly 72% of all LGBTQ elected officials in the country. 

“For full representation, we need to do a better job at making sure that all members of our community have access to the opportunity to serve and encourage members from diverse backgrounds to seek out those opportunities,” Knott said. 

The Victory Institute has been following these trends since the November 2017 elections. Since then, there has been a 121% increase in known openly LGBTQ+ elected officials. 

Since 2017, the number of known trans elected officials has increased from six to 41, the number of known openly bisexual elected officials increased from eight to 72, the number of pansexual elected officials rose from one to 14 and the number of queer elected officials increased from two to 75.

LGBTQ elected officials are significantly more diverse than the overall elected official population – so their impact extends beyond LGBTQ equality alone,” said Ruben Gonzales, executive director of the Victory Institute. “LGBTQ elected officials are on the frontlines in legislative efforts to end police brutality, defend voting rights and secure inclusive healthcare reform. LGBTQ people are represented in every community in America and that diversity allows for more thoughtful policy changes when we are in office.”


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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.