From suing the state to serving as AG: Nessel recalls journey at Michigan Pride

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Attorney General speaks at Michigan Pride on the Capitol steps, June 15, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

Saturday wasn’t the first time that Attorney General Dana Nessel was the grand marshal of Michigan Pride.

Five years earlier, she served in that role at the annual LGBTQ festival when she was an attorney fighting the state of Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban, which was ultimately overturned in 2015 by the U.S. Supreme Court. Nessel recalled that history outside Michigan’s Capitol on Saturday afternoon.

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had Pride flags hoisted on the Romney Building for the first time | Susan J. Demas

“So I have the great honor and privilege of being your grand marshal this year. It’s actually the second time that I’ve been grand marshal,” she noted. “The first was in 2014. The thing about that year is … I was suing the state of Michigan and the Michigan attorney general’s office on behalf of the LGBTQ community so that we could have adoption rights and marriage rights in this state.

“Only now, in 2019, I represent the state of Michigan and I am Michigan attorney general! So that I can ensure that we have a state that actually cares about all people who live here, including our community. We are all Michiganders and we are all entitled to equal protection under the law. Period.”

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That won applause and cheers.

Later on at the rally, there was another emotional moment when LGBTQ kids were invited up to the Capitol steps and there wasn’t enough room for everyone to stand.

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

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had two Pride flags hoisted on the Romney Building where her executive office is located across from the Capitol. This is the first time that the executive office building has flown the flags.

Nessel called Whitmer “the most pro-LGBTQ governor” Michigan has ever had.

The attorney general said “it’s amazing that we have so many people in state government who care about our community,” but pointed to her rainbow-colored “Resist” button.

“Well, you might ask, ‘What is there to resist? You are the government now,'” she said. “And that’s true, in part. But the fact is, it’s not all of government. So what I spend a lot of my time doing in the office of attorney general is this: suing the [President] Trump administration. And I will continue to sue up until we have someone new in the White House that actually cares about us again.”

In one such case, Nessel last month joined a coalition suing the GOP administration over its “religious exemptions” health rule that she said could harm the LGBTQ community and others.

Pro-LGBTQ officials running Michigan is a sea change

Before the rally, there was a parade featuring an array of local businesses, churches and political candidates. The event drew roughly 5,000 people, including Lansing Mayor Andy Schor, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, state Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing) and Ingham County Commissioner Ryan Seabolt.

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Lansing Mayor Andy Schor at Michigan Pride, June 15, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

Nessel noted that the LGBTQ community has won marriage and adoption rights, but still lacks protection from discrimination in Michigan.

“That is not tolerable in 2019 and we have to fight against that,” Nessel said.

There’s been a renewed push by lawmakers to add LGBTQs to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, mostly by Democrats. But both state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) stand opposed. Nessel called that “tragic and … wrong.”

She entreated those attending the rally to stay politically active in 2020.

“If people do not subscribe to the ‘crazy’ notion of equal protection under the law for everyone,” the AG said, “then they don’t deserve our vote.”

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Susan J. Demas is an 18-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 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 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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