Commentary

Susan J. Demas: Don’t be fooled. Conservatives are still on a mission to destroy LGBTQ+ rights.

August 5, 2021 6:50 am

Susan J. Demas

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage six years ago, many Republicans and conservative outfits have shifted their rhetoric from gleefully declaring LGBTQ+s deserve scorn instead of basic human rights, to couching their bigotry in more genteel terms and desperately rooting out wedge issues.

That’s the odd way we seem to mark progress in this country.

Soon after the decision, we saw a rash of so-called “bathroom bills” trying to incite panic over trans people. And this year, we’ve seen GOP lawmakers in Michigan and more than 30 states introduce legislation banning transgender athletes from competing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Conservatives claim they’re protecting biological women (i.e. real women), but their obsessive need to inflict traditional gender roles on everyone else is just deeply creepy and weird — like the former professor Michigan Republicans trotted out at a May hearing who declared that “biological females are one of our nation’s greatest treasures.”

Conservatives claim they're protecting biological women (i.e. real women), but their obsessive need to inflict traditional gender roles on everyone else is just deeply creepy and weird.

– Susan J. Demas

But many right-wingers are careful not to come right out and say that they don’t believe LGBTQ+ people should have rights. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Jason Wentworth, the GOP leaders who run the Legislature, just never seem to have time to prioritize legislation that would add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act — even though it keeps being introduced every term, even has GOP sponsors and their major business donors back it.

Because of this song and dance, the Fair and Equal Michigan coalition started a petition drive to get the issue before voters in 2022. After all, 74% of Michiganders support such a measure, including a majority of Republicans. But a state board said last month the group didn’t have enough signatures, something that is certain to end up in court.

Meanwhile, the attorney for a group challenging the petition, Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice — which has ties to an anti-gay law firm — stressed she’s not opposed to the initiative on its substance, arguing it’s just about following the constitutional process.

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LGBTQ kids assembled at Michigan Pride, June 15, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

Even when state financial reports revealed that the Michigan Catholic Conference was bankrolling the effort to boot the LGBTQ+ non-discrimination initiative from the ballot, the group issued a statement stressing that the “Catholic faith teaches and compels believers to treat all persons with respect and dignity” while justifying its opposition to basic human rights for all. (The fact that that the church would choose to shell out almost $240,000 for this when there are so many cases in Michigan and nationwide against priests who allegedly sexually abused children — and were never fired — speaks volumes about its priorities).

In the end, the issue could end up being moot. The Michigan Supreme Court, which has its first Democratic-nominated majority in more than a decade, agreed last month to hear a landmark case that could add protections for LGBTQ+s in Elliot-Larsen.

Of course, the three GOP-nominated justices — David Viviano, Brian Zahra and Elizabeth Clement — all voted no. But again, their argument wasn’t that LGBTQ+ people are undeserving of basic rights. It was just that they objected to the process, you see.

A lot of us in the LGBTQ community are frustrated by the excruciatingly slow pace of progress, especially those in Gen Z, like my kids. It’s tempting to think that progress is inevitable, but that’s not always the case. There’s always a backlash, and very well-funded conservative groups remain on a mission to yank back our rights.

A lot of us in the LGBTQ community are frustrated by the excruciatingly slow pace of progress, especially those in Gen Z, like my kids. It's tempting to think that progress is inevitable, but that's not always the case.

– Susan J. Demas

In 2015, I watched the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision on TV with my then-12-year-old who was not yet out, but was figuring herself out. Seeing that she had the right to marry whomever she loved was pivotal in her journey and helped her become an LGBTQ rights and progressive leader at her high school.

And we can’t forget that before she was Michigan’s attorney general, Dana Nessel, was fighting on the right side of justice in that case. Representation matters. It matters that Michigan keeps electing more LGBTQ+ officials like Nessel. It matters that we have the first openly gay cabinet member in the Biden administration with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

Even if you think the Democratic Party is too timid — and it often is — it’s miles ahead of the GOP in social justice issues and ensuring that the most vulnerable are protected.

But make no doubt about it. Conservatives view recent national pro-LGBTQ+court decisions merely as a temporary setback. That’s why Republicans — even those who claimed to be quite offended by former President Donald Trump’s crassness — were so absolutely jazzed by his far-right federal and Supreme Court picks. With his final nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, social reactionaries finally feel confident that court will neuter women’s health rights in overturning Roe v. Wade, dump same-sex marriage and more.

In a way, the real fight is just beginning.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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