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First LGBTQ statewide official in Mich. seeks re-election

Dana Nessel elected attorney general in 2018



Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks at the Michigan state Capitol in Lansing, Mich., during a Pride event on June 26, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Nessel's office)

In such a political swing state as Michigan has emerged to be in recent elections, the presence of an out LGBTQ statewide official for the last four years — a first in the state’s history — has been as much of a political anomaly for the region as it’s been a cultural one.

Running for re-election in November after becoming the state’s first LGBTQ candidate to be elected to statewide office, Democratic Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has sought to use her office and identity as an out, married lesbian to advocate for LGBTQ equality.

Prior to her run for office, she had been involved in LGBTQ legal advocacy efforts in the state, having served as co-counsel in the 2014 DeBoer v. Snyder case that briefly ruled Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional in the leadup to the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015.

For Nessel, an importance surrounding the representation she has provided to other members of Michigan’s LGBTQ community has remained throughout her first term in office.

“Especially for younger generations, it allows for people to see that you can be an openly gay person and be successful in public life,” Nessel told the Washington Blade. “I have never hid who I was, I made every effort to ensure that people sort of have a little insight into my background and also see my family — [I’m] as proud of my family as any person who’s in an opposite-sex marriage — and to see that you can succeed and you can win a statewide election even in a very purple state as long as you have the right policies and as long as you’re willing to put in the work.”

Defeating then-Michigan House of Representatives Speaker Tom Leonard, Nessel was elected in 2018 as part of a wave of Democratic ascensions to offices across the nation. She ran, in part, on her experience as a prosecutor and one of the state’s top civil rights lawyers on issues relating to LGBTQ equality.

Since then, she has worked with other top officeholders to advance causes involving statewide civil rights efforts and promises made during her initial campaign. Her partnership with officials including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has spanned issues ranging from abortion access to defending Michigan election systems in the wake of the 2020 presidential election and subsequent allegations of widespread voter fraud in the state.

Now entering the final months of her re-election campaign against Republican opponent and Kalamazoo attorney Matt DePerno, the attorney general has remained at the epicenter of efforts to establish additional protections for the state’s LGBTQ community. In a case currently pending in the Michigan Supreme Court, Nessel has argued for an interpretation of the language in the state’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to expand its prohibition on discrimination to include an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity.

Given the state’s history with regard to progress on LGBTQ rights, the importance of such litigation and the attorney general’s role, Nessel said, remains paramount.

“If you look at Michigan, every right that an LGBTQ person has in this state was won in a court battle because, legislatively, we’ve never passed anything that was helpful to the [LGBTQ] community, only laws that are harmful to the community,” Nessel said.

But following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn the nationwide right to abortion, Nessel says she is also prepared to stand against challenges to Michigan residents’ rights to privacy in other areas including sexual intimacy.

In the event of the Supreme Court ruling to overturn its 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas that established a nationwide right to same-sex intimacy and privacy regarding consensual sex acts, Nessel said that she would take multiple approaches to ensuring the right — which would affect both same- and opposite-sex couples’ ability to engage in certain private sex acts — remained.

“If Lawrence v. Texas were overturned, it’s not just that I would fight, whether testifying before the legislature or using the bully pulpit to talk about how egregious the thought is of being able to basically prosecute people for something that takes place in the privacy of their own bedroom with another consenting adult and how horrendous that is,” Nessel said. “But then, I myself would refuse to prosecute any sodomy cases.”

With the attorney general’s position as the state’s top law enforcement official, charged with bringing cases in the courts on behalf of the state, critics have characterized such moves as a neglect of duty.

Following the announcement in late June of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs, DePerno released a statement criticizing Nessel’s messaging that she would not prosecute abortion-related cases should the practice once again become criminalized in the state.

“It is deeply troubling that Dana Nessel pledged to not enforce the opinion of the Supreme Court even before their announcement this morning,” DePerno said. “We cannot have an attorney general who believes she is better than the Supreme Court and the law.”

Pointing to laws rarely tried by county or state prosecutors, such as Michigan’s ban on adultery, Nessel, however, argued that such is a matter of prioritizing her department’s resources to best serve and aid her constituents.

“There are so many laws on the books that it’s your prosecutorial discretion as to whether or not you want to bring those cases,” Nessel said. “To me, my priority is protecting the health, the safety and the welfare of my constituents and prosecuting abortion cases — that’s going to jeopardize the lives of women and not assist them. Prosecuting sodomy cases — I don’t know who I’m benefiting if I were to engage in that.”

In the face of vast legal uncertainty that has now gripped the nation, coupled with a looming election day in November, she said that she intends to continue doing such.

“I expect my office to be very active in protecting LGBTQ rights which is what we’ve done since literally the minute I took office,” Nessel said.

The most recent WDIV/Detroit News polling conducted in early July currently places Nessel with a seven-point lead over DePerno, with almost 17 percent of voters undecided.



Mich. Democrats spar over LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law

Lawmakers disagree on just what kind of statute to pass



Members of the Michigan House Democrats gather to celebrate Pride month in 2023 in the Capitol building. (Photo courtesy of Michigan House Democrats)

Michigan could soon become the latest state to pass an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime law, but the state’s Democratic lawmakers disagree on just what kind of law they should pass.

Currently, Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidation Act only offers limited protections to victims of crime motivated by their “race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.” Bills proposed by Democratic lawmakers expand the list to include “actual or perceived race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, physical or mental disability, age, national origin, or association or affiliation with any such individuals.” 

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have both advocated for a hate crime law, but house and senate Democrats have each passed different hate crimes packages, and Nessel has blasted both as being too weak.

Under the house proposal that passed last year (House Bill 4474), a first offense would be punishable with a $2,000 fine, up to two years in prison, or both. Penalties double for a second offense, and if a gun or other dangerous weapons is involved, the maximum penalty is six years in prison and a fine of $7,500. 

But that proposal stalled when it reached the senate, after far-right news outlets and Fox News reported misinformation that the bill only protected LGBTQ people and would make misgendering a trans person a crime. State Rep. Noah Arbit, the bill’s sponsor, was also made the subject of a recall effort, which ultimately failed.

Arbit submitted a new version of the bill (House Bill 5288) that added sections clarifying that misgendering a person, “intentionally or unintentionally” is not a hate crime, although the latest version (House Bill 5400) of the bill omits this language.

That bill has since stalled in a house committee, in part because the Democrats lost their house majority last November, when two Democratic representatives resigned after being elected mayors. The Democrats regained their house majority last night by winning two special elections.

Meanwhile, the senate passed a different package of hate crime bills sponsored by state Sen. Sylvia Santana (Senate Bill 600) in March that includes much lighter sentences, as well as a clause ensuring that misgendering a person is not a hate crime. 

Under the senate bill, if the first offense is only a threat, it would be a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and up to $1,000 fine. A subsequent offense or first violent hate crime, including stalking, would be a felony that attracts double the punishment.

Multiple calls and emails from the Washington Blade to both Arbit and Santana requesting comment on the bills for this story went unanswered.

The attorney general’s office sent a statement to the Blade supporting stronger hate crime legislation.

“As a career prosecutor, [Nessel] has seen firsthand how the state’s weak Ethnic Intimidation Act (not updated since the late 1980’s) does not allow for meaningful law enforcement and court intervention before threats become violent and deadly, nor does it consider significant bases for bias.  It is our hope that the legislature will pass robust, much-needed updates to this statute,” the statement says.

But Nessel, who has herself been the victim of racially motivated threats, has also blasted all of the bills presented by Democrats as not going far enough.

“Two years is nothing … Why not just give them a parking ticket?” Nessel told Bridge Michigan.

Nessel blames a bizarre alliance far-right and far-left forces that have doomed tougher laws.

“You have this confluence of forces on the far right … this insistence that the First Amendment protects this language, or that the Second Amendment protects the ability to possess firearms under almost any and all circumstances,” Nessel said. “But then you also have the far left that argues basically no one should go to jail or prison for any offense ever.”

The legislature did manage to pass an “institutional desecration” law last year that penalizes hate-motivated vandalism to churches, schools, museums, and community centers, and is LGBTQ-inclusive.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, reported hate crime incidents have been skyrocketing, with attacks motivated by sexual orientation surging by 70 percent from 2020 to 2022, the last year for which data is available. 

Twenty-two states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime laws. Another 11 states have hate crime laws that include protections for “sexual orientation” but not “gender identity.”

Michigan Democrats have advanced several key LGBTQ rights priorities since they took unified control of the legislature in 2023. A long-stalled comprehensive anti-discrimination law was passed last year, as did a conversion therapy ban. Last month the legislature updated family law to make surrogacy easier for all couples, including same-sex couples. 

A bill to ban the “gay panic” defense has passed the state house and was due for a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday.

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Chasten Buttigieg discusses attacks on LGBTQ kids

Michigan State University Theatre Department hosted Pete Buttigieg’s husband



Chasten Buttigieg (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

BY ANDREW ROTH — Chasten Buttigieg said that politics is a form of theater during a guest lecture on Saturday hosted by the Michigan State University Department of Theatre, saying that politicians who attack members of the LGBTQ community are bad actors.

Last month, Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old Indigenous person who used both he/him and they/them pronouns, was found dead in their home one day after being attacked by bullies in a school restroom.

The school nurse determined that ambulance service was not required but advised that they visit a medical facility for further examination.

Police discouraged the family from filing a report, saying that it would open them up to legal liability and adding that it would be a shame for any of the students to have to deal with a criminal charge for “something so miniscule,” though Benedict had disclosed that they were being bullied for a full year prior to the attack.

The day after the fight, Benedict collapsed at home and was later pronounced dead.

Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, died on Feb. 8, 2024, after a fight at their high school. (Family photo)

“It takes a lot of people to fail a child like that,” said Buttigieg, a Michigan native, former teacher and the husband of U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

According to the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s office, Benedict died by suicide after ingesting multiple medications.

Rates of suicide are disproportionately high for transgender youth, and even higher yet for trans people of color.

But Benedict’s family, advocates and supporters remain skeptical of the report’s findings.

“Rather than allow incomplete accounts to take hold and spread any further, the Benedicts feel compelled to provide a summary of those findings which have not yet been released by the Medical Examiner’s office, particularly those that contradict allegations of the assault on Nex being insignificant,” an attorney for the Benedict family said in a press release.

The release highlighted a section of the autopsy report, which said that while Benedict did not sustain “lethal trauma,” they did have multiple injuries to their head, neck and torso, which the lawyers say clearly shows “the severity of the assault.”

“Trans kids, especially, all they want to do is stay alive. That’s their dream in this country, is to stay alive,” Chasten Buttigieg said on Saturday. “I’m so lucky that I got to go back home and had parents who told me that they love me. I’m so lucky that I got to grow up and go to college and fall in love and have kids. There’s still kids in this country being robbed of all those opportunities.”

Sue Benedict told the Independent that Nex started being bullied at school after Oklahoma’s Republican governor, Kevin Stitt, signed a bill in 2022 to forbid trans and nonbinary youth from using bathrooms concurrent with their gender identities.

In 2023, Stitt signed another bill to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth in the state.

That’s just one of 87 anti-trans bills that passed in the U.S. last year, according to the Trans Legislation Tracker.

Just three months into the current year, more than 500 anti-trans bills have been introduced in state legislatures nationwide.

Asked about Benedict’s death and the impact anti-trans legislation may have had, Oklahoma state Sen. Tom Woods replied, “My heart goes out to that scenario, if that is the case. We’re a Republican state — supermajority in the House and Senate. I represent a constituency that doesn’t want that filth in Oklahoma.”

“I’m not joking when I say politics is theater. They know what they’re doing. They do it on purpose. It’s devastating,” Buttigieg said. “Politics is supposed to be about making people’s lives better, safer and easier. You have some adults hellbent on making it harder.”

Buttigieg said the attacks encourage him to double down on his advocacy for the LGBTQ community.

“I continue to speak up, even when sometimes it means the meanest, nastiest people will come for you. At least I know who I am. I know what I believe in, and I know what kind of world I want for my kids,” Buttigieg said. “Shame on you for not wanting to do whatever you can to keep them alive. And then when they’re dead, you spit on their grave. You belong nowhere near public service, let alone children.”

Buttigieg said that his safety concerns have grown now that he is a father, as has his concern for creating the world he wants them to grow up in.

“It’s very scary when you feel like part of your job is you want to speak up for everyone’s kids, and then you’re looking at your own kids and you’re terrified because you know if you do speak out — it’s not if, it’s when they come for you,” Buttigieg said. “There is an element of risk there, and I’m very lucky that we have people whose job it is to keep us safe, even though I think it’s really messed up that, in America, we need that.

“I don’t wish a death threat on anybody. There are people who I disagree with wholeheartedly in this country, I think what they do is disgusting. I think going after children is wrong. I think political violence should never be embraced. But I would never wish a death threat on them. But for some reason, they send it my way,” Buttigieg added.

Growing up in Traverse City

Buttigieg discussed his own experience growing up in Traverse City, fearing for what would happen if he came out as gay.

“I remember growing up, we had these stickers on the back of city vehicles that said, ‘WE ARE TRAVERSE CITY’ and it had these rainbow puzzle pieces that kind of looked like they’re holding hands. The homophobic backlash to those stickers was so loud and disgusting,” Buttigieg said. “People would rip them off police vehicles and the local buses. I remember learning at a young age, this is what my town thinks of gay people. So why would I ever come out?”

“And now we’ve got, like, can you have too many rainbow flags?” Buttigieg joked. “I think Traverse City has seen a great amount of change, especially because it just takes people being brave enough to define their community for everyone and to be brave enough to say this isn’t the city that we are, this is what we imagine this town can be.”

Even little things, like seeing rainbow flag stickers in storefront windows, can add up to make a big difference, Buttigieg said.

“The rainbow flag can mean so much and so many different things for people. It reminds you that there is freedom to be yourself. Even if you’re shopping for candles, just seeing that little sticker on a storefront tells you it’s okay to be yourself in here. That means a lot,” Buttigieg said. “What would it have meant to a younger me to see that? When I was growing up, I saw people ripping those things down, and now they’re putting them up.”

During his time as a student at Traverse City West Senior High School, Buttigieg said that theater was one of the few safe spaces for him.

“I had a great theater teacher in high school, Mrs. Bach, who really became a safe haven for students who felt different. I used to hide in the back of the theater in high school, and she would see me sneak in, even if there was another class in there, and she wouldn’t bother me; she’d let me hide in there for a while,” Buttigieg said. “During those tumultuous years of high school where you’re just trying to figure out who you are, and especially with the kind of homophobia we had in high school at the time, there just really wasn’t room to be different. And so the theater became a safe space.”

 Traverse City residents celebrate at Up North Pride’s 2018 march for LGBTQ rights. The organization spoke out against discriminatory comments made by hair salon owner Christine Geiger on July 11, 2023 (Photo by Lily Guiney)

Later, Buttigieg received a scholarship to spend his senior year of high school studying abroad in Germany, which he viewed as his ticket out of northern Michigan.

“It changed everything, because that’s when I finally made a friend. I remember feeling like my guts were going to spill out. She was like ‘What’s wrong with you?’ and I said I think I might be bisexual, and she went, ‘Or you can just be gay; it’s fine,” Buttigieg said. “Making a friend who was like, ‘You can be gay; that’s totally cool; let’s go get ice cream,’ it was so matter of fact, that was what prompted me to come home and then come out.  … When I got home, I went right back into the closet. I remember landing back in Traverse City feeling like I had to go back to living a lie, and I didn’t last very long; that’s when I wound up running away from home.”

Buttigieg brought his love for theater to college, receiving an undergraduate degree in theater and global studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire before moving to Chicago, where he received a master’s of education degree from DePaul University.

“I told myself that if I could substitute in Chicago public schools for two years, then I would go to grad school and become a teacher, but I want to make sure this is absolutely what I wanted to do,” Buttigieg said. “And then right after those two years I enrolled in grad school, and that’s the summer I fell in love with a mayor.”

He was referring to Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Highlighting the importance of arts education, Chasten Buttigieg said that, as a teacher, he tried to share the safety theater provided him as a student with a new generation.

While directing a “Harry Potter” parody play, Buttigieg said a student who was typically very reserved auditioned and he saw her potential.

“I gave her a really big spot. I remember posting the cast list and all the kids grumbling about it,” Buttigieg said. “She blew it out of the water. I remember her mom coming up to me after opening night and saying, ‘I’ve never seen my daughter like this. My daughter doesn’t talk to me, and now here she is up on a stage commanding an audience.’”

“That’s what a teacher saw in me, and to see that in another kid and to share that experience and to know that, hopefully, even in this little experience has taught her that she has talent and she has potential and that she shouldn’t think that she’s defined by the opinions of all these other kids around her and that there’s something really special about her, too,” Buttigieg said.

 Pete Buttigieg at the NAACP candidate forum in Detroit in 2019 (Photo by Andrew Roth)

Hitting the campaign trail

After a couple years as a junior high humanities teacher, Buttigieg said he was getting more comfortable in the classroom.

“I was really getting in the groove. I graduated grad school. I felt like, all right, my career’s cooking; I know what I want to do. Then my husband said, ‘I think I’m going to run for president,’” Buttigieg said. “I’m not teaching right now.”

Buttigieg said his time teaching prepared him to deal with the attention that comes with politics.

“In politics, they’re yelling at you or spitting at you or writing mean things about you on the internet and you’re like, I’ve taught eighth grade. Nothing is going to bother me the way teaching eighth grade can,” Buttigieg said.

Similarly, he said his theater experience prepared him to hit the campaign trail early on during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

“When Pete’s campaign took off, it took off fast. Because I was comfortable public speaking and because I knew how to tell a story, I was able to get on the campaign trail much quicker, didn’t really require much media training,” Buttigieg said. “So much of politics is theater. A lot of these people are bad actors in a political sense.”

I remember growing up, we had these stickers on the back of city vehicles that said, ‘WE ARE TRAVERSE CITY’ and it had these rainbow puzzle pieces that kind of looked like they’re holding hands. The homophobic backlash to those stickers was so loud and disgusting.

Buttigieg said that politics is theater, in part, because both are about storytelling.

“That’s where politics can be really powerful, is when we’re telling other people’s stories: Here’s what people stand to gain; here’s what people stand to lose; let me tell you a little bit about the teacher I met in rural Iowa or the students I sat down with in Parkland, Fla. Let me tell you about why politics matters to them,” Buttigieg said. “That background in theater really helped me think about how to tell a story creatively, succinctly and repackage it for a three-minute hit on national television.”

Buttigieg said he would also use his theater experience to give his husband notes on how he could improve his stage presence while speaking.

“I remember early on in my relationship, I was figuring out if it was OK to give him some stage presence pointers. Now, it’s kind of exhausting,” Buttigieg said. “I do political speaking consulting for work, and Pete’s on the news all the time, and sometimes we’re just talking about talking points. So it’d be like we’re just doing talking point dinner right now. It’s kind of annoying. Like, ‘No, I think the real story is …’ and we’ll just realize that we’re just going back and forth sharing talking points. I guess that’s gross and cute at the same time.”

“I also realized that Fox News can only do so many things, but I can say some things to really jab at him that people on TV don’t have the time for. That’s fun,” Buttigieg joked.

Buttigieg’s love of theater has also intersected with his husband’s political career more directly.

Buttigieg said that when the campaign caught fire, he spent most of his time in early voting states like New Hampshire and Nevada while his husband attended fundraisers and spent most of his time in Iowa.

“I was the surrogate who was punted to the smallest town in northern New Hampshire to walk through the snow and knock on doors and do community town halls with an audience of 15 people,” Buttigieg said. “New Hampshire, Nevada, early states – just kick Chasten over there; I’m not bitter.”

From left, Chasten Buttigieg embraces his husband, then-South Bend (Ind.) Mayor Pete Buttigieg at a campaign rally at City Winery in D.C. on April 4, 2019. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“Pete would be at some fundraiser or gala, he was always in Iowa fundraising, so he would go to these big events,” Buttigieg said. “One night I called him to get the tea on how his night went, and he went ‘Oh, you’re never going to believe this. They were ushering me out, and they are like oh, we want you to meet our friend, Steve.’ And I was like, ‘I swear to God if you tell me you met Stephen Sondheim,’ and he was like ‘I did, and he was such a nice guy.’ The will not to throw my phone. He was like, ‘Yeah, he was really nice.’ And? ‘Really nice guy.’ Like, you don’t deserve to meet Stephen Sondheim. You really don’t.”

But it may have been partially made up for when Chasten Buttigieg got to interact with another theater icon.

“I got the notification that Lin-Manuel Miranda followed me and I screamed so loud. Pete came running into the kitchen as if I had just chopped off my fingers, like, ‘What, what, what?’ ‘Lin-Manuel Miranda followed me!’ ‘Oh, come on.’ I’m still happy about it,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg said he enjoys sharing his passion with his husband, even if it comes with jealousy at times.

“I do understand that my husband’s very famous and people like him, and it’s only in theater that it really bothers me. Like when the ‘Lion King’ came through town and they’re like, ‘Pete, you have to see Zazu.’ I was like, ‘Why does he get to see Zazu? Why does he get to play with the puppet?’ I have a degree in theater, you know. I’m not bitter about that either,” Buttigieg said. “Maybe that’s the next book title: ‘I’m Not Bitter.’

Ultimately, while Buttigieg is no longer teaching theater, he said the platform he’s been given still provides the opportunity to make a difference.

“I’m really, really lucky that I got to grow up to become a person I really could have used when I was younger. Imagine what it would have been like to see a gay presidential candidate and his husband, or to see these adults speaking up on behalf of kids who are being attacked by the adults in positions of power,” Buttigieg said. “That’s why we do what we do: Because of the young kids who are still peeking their head out of the closet, wondering if they will belong in this country, if it’s OK to be themselves in this country. And I think part of my job is to say, ‘Yes, you do.’”


Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth is a regular contributor to the Michigan Advance and a former reporting intern. He has been covering Michigan policy and politics since 2018 across a number of publications and is a graduate of Michigan State University.


The preceding story was previously published by the Michigan Advance and is republished with permission.

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Mich. becomes 22nd state to ban conversion therapy

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed bill on Wednesday



Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on July 26, 2023, signed House Bills 4616 and 4617, introduced by state Reps. Felicia Brabec and Jason Hoskins, into law, officially prohibiting state-licensed providers from engaging in so-called conversion therapy with minors. (Photo courtesy of Whitmer's office/Facebook)

By Anna Liz Nichols | LANSING, Mich. – A ban on conversion therapy for minors was signed into law in Michigan Wednesday in the latest development of the new Democratic-led state Legislature’s push for LGBTQ rights in Michigan.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a news release Wednesday that as the mother of a gay daughter, she is grateful to have the opportunity to make the state a more welcoming place to live for everyone’s children.

“Today, we are banning the horrific practice of conversion therapy in Michigan and ensuring this is a state where you can be who you are,” Whitmer said. “Let’s continue working together to ensure anyone can ‘make it’ in Michigan, expand fundamental freedoms, and fight back against any and all forms of discrimination.”  

The legislation, House Bill 4616 and House Bill 4617, effectively bars mental health professionals from seeking to alter a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or risk facing disciplinary action that could result in the loss of their professional licenses.

The legislation does not prohibit the practice of gender-affirming care or support during exploration of gender or sexuality or counseling to prevent unsafe relationship practices.

There is no evidence that conversion therapy works, but there is evidence that shows it is dangerous to children, bill sponsor Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Township), who is also a clinical psychologist, said in the news release from the governor’s office and in her testimony on the House floor in June.

“I am acutely aware that kids need to be free to express themselves without the fear or threat of damaging pseudo-psychology like conversion therapy. With the support of several mental health organizations throughout our state and nation, I can confidently say that this law will help to ensure that therapists like myself continue to do no harm in our practices, while protecting the LGBTQ youth in our state,” Brabec said.

Proponents of banning conversion therapy say legislation like what’s being implemented in Michigan prevents suicide.

When Whitmer signed an executive order in 2021 banning the use of state and federal funds being used for conversion therapy on minors, the Trevor Project, a non-profit group working to create a safer environment for LGBTQ kids, applauded the action. The Trevor Project added at the time that a 2020 report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth who experienced conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the last year than their peers who hadn’t been in conversion therapy.

Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan, which works to reach out and advocate for LGBTQ Michiganders, said, “today is a good day” because the ban is a win for Michigan against the “torture” of conversion therapy.

‘The practice is inherently discriminatory, they are cruel, inhumane and degrading treatments that, depending on the severity, physical or mental pain, the suffering inflicted on a victim oftentimes amounts to torture,” Knott said. “This is just one step in terms of mitigating torture and trauma to our kids as well as letting them know or giving them a signal that they are loved and supported and valued as they are, there’s no need to attempt to change them for who they are or how they identify.”

The ban is part of several LGBTQ rights measures considered this term after Democrats have the majority in both chambers in the state legislature for the first time in nearly 40 years. The state’s 1976 civil rights laws got an update in March when Whitmer signed into law legislation to extend protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation

Currently, expansions to the state’s hate crime laws, which would add protections for abuses suffered by individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are making their way through the Legislature.

The legislation signed Wednesday creates penalties for licensed mental health professionals, but doesn’t address unlicensed professionals who perform conversion therapy, including religious leaders providing conversion therapy with no mental health care licensure.

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