Michigan LGBTQ+ Milestones

From 1970 to 2020, here’s what’s happened in the state
aimee stephens lgbtq+ michigan
Redford resident Aimee Stephens (center) at the Supreme Court of the United States.  // Photograph by Molly Kaplan, courtesy of ACLU

From the founding of local chapters of the Gay Liberation Front to the Supreme Court of the United States’ recent historic ruling, here’s a look at the Michigan LGBTQ+ community’s milestones in the last five decades.


Activist Jim Toy co-founds the Ann Arbor and Detroit chapters of the Gay Liberation Front.


Toy and Cynthia Gair found the Human Sexuality Office, the nation’s first gay and lesbian student center, at the University of Michigan.


In March, the East Lansing City Council passes the nation’s first anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation. The Ann Arbor City Council follows suit in December and also, in June, becomes the first government body to issue a Lesbian and Gay Pride Week proclamation. In June, the first march to protest homophobia takes place in Detroit, an event that later would evolve into Motor City Pride.


Ann Arbor City Council members Jerry DeGrieck and Nancy Wechsler, elected the year before, become the first two elected officials in the U.S. to come out as LGBTQ in office.


Kathy Kozachenko becomes the nation’s — and possibly the world’s — first candidate to win public office while already being openly gay.


GOP State Rep. Jim Dressel, who later came out as gay, makes the first unsuccessful attempt to add sexual orientation to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.


Ann Arbor enacts the state’s first domestic partnership ordinance. Also, Equality Michigan is founded as the Triangle Foundation.


Between the Lines, a bi-weekly LGBTQ newspaper in the Detroit area, is founded.


Scott Amedure, 32, is shot to death by Jonathan Schmitz in Lake Orion days after admitting on #The Jenny Jones Show# that he had a crush on Schmitz. Schmitz was convicted of second-degree murder in 1996 and was released on parole in 2017.


Allan Gilmour, the recently retired vice chair of Ford Motor Co. who sat on the boards of Detroit Edison, Dow Chemical, Whirlpool, and Prudential, comes out as gay in an interview with Between the Lines, becoming the most visible openly gay corporate leader in America. Also, Republican Gov. John Engler signs into law measures to ban same-sex marriage in Michigan and recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states.


Chris Kolb of Ann Arbor becomes the first openly LGBTQ person elected to the Michigan House.


By executive order, Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public sector employment. Also, the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas strikes down all sodomy laws, including those still on the books in Michigan.


Michigan voters approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage or civil unions with 58.6 percent of the vote.


Granholm bars discrimination on the basis of gender identity in public sector employment via executive order.


Ferndale voters elect Craig Covey, making him the state’s first out mayor.


Gilmour becomes the state’s first LGBTQ university president, at Wayne State. Also, Chris Armstrong is elected U-M’s first LGBTQ student body president.


After the Traverse City Commission bans discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, opponents force a referendum. Voters uphold the law by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signs a law barring public entities other than colleges and universities from offering health benefits to partners of same-sex employees.


April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse of Hazel Park sue the state in federal court to challenge Michigan’s ban on adoption by same-sex couples. Judge Bernard Friedman, a Reagan appointee, says the underlying issue in the case is the state’s marriage ban and invites the couple to amend their suit to challenge that, which they do.


Following a nine-day trial, Friedman strikes down as unconstitutional the state’s same-sex marriage ban. On March 22, 323 same-sex couples wed before the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals grants Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette’s request for a temporary stay on Friedman’s order pending an appeal. In November, the 6th Circuit upholds the state’s marriage ban. Also in March, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirms Judith Levy as the first out LGBTQ federal district court judge to serve in a Michigan district.


In a 5-4 decision on a quartet of cases including DeBoer, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down federal and state bans on same-sex marriage.


Dana Nessel is elected attorney general, becoming the first openly LGBTQ person elected to statewide office. Also, Jeremy Moss of Southfield becomes the first openly LGBTQ person elected to the Michigan Senate.


The U.S. Supreme Court rules 6-3 that federal law protects LGBTQ people from employment or housing discrimination, a landmark ruling emanating out of the Michigan case known as R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In it, Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman from Redford, sued after losing her job upon coming out to her employer. Stephens died in May 2020 at 59, weeks before the June ruling.

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