Nancy Katz, right, received the Neil Staebler Award, one of the four prestigious awards presented at the annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner.

LGBT Presence Strong At MI Democratic Dinner

By Jan Stevenson

DETROIT - The energy and enthusiasm to win elections this fall was palpable at the sold-out Jefferson Jackson Dinner April 26 at Cobo Hall's Riverfront Ballroom. The largest annual fundraiser for the Michigan Democratic Party had over 2,000 people who cheered Democratic candidates and honored long-time public servants U.S. Rep. John Dingell and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, both of whom are retiring this year after decades of representing Michigan in Washington.

Not to be overlooked was the large LGBT presence at the dinner. There were almost seven rainbow adorned tables filled with people from the LGBT Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party. Mark LaChey, chair of the caucus, was pleased and proud that so many LGBT people were at the dinner. "This is really amazing. Last year we had one table, and this year almost seven. It means a lot to the party leadership that our caucus can deliver and show up."

All seven tables erupted in loud cheers when Nancy Katz was awarded the Neil Staebler Award, one of the four prestigious awards presented at the annual dinner. Katz, the former president of Affirmations Community Center, commits significant time and resources to the Democratic Party, serving as an at-large officer of the Party and helping Democratic candidates financially. "It was an honor to be recognized by the Michigan Democratic Party. The party is a strong supporter of the LGBT community, and it is paramount that the LGBT community support the party and Democratic candidates," said Katz. "Only then will we have laws that protect our rights, whether to marry, to adopt, and to have equal access to jobs and housing."

Four LGBT candidates running for the Michigan legislature, Jon Hoadley, Rudy Serra, Garnet Lewis and Jeremy Moss, sat with the LGBT Caucus members after long days of canvassing their districts. All four are endorsed by The Victory Fund, the national organization committed to electing out, LGBT candidates. LaChey, a board member of The Victory Fund, has also initiated a local campaign called "Four in 2014" in support of these LGBT candidates encourages financial donations from caucus members and allies.

The campaign had been "Five in 2014" before Aaryn Richard of Owasso dropped out of his race for the Michigan house. Richard was at a LGBT Caucus table and said he intends to work hard on the campaigns for the remaining four LGBT candidates.

"I am really excited about how my campaign is going," said Lewis, who is running for state senate in the Midland area. "This is traditionally a pretty conservative district, but as I go door-to-door, I hear lots of people telling me they can't support Republicans because of their policies and actions. It's surprising and I'm very encouraged."

The new chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, Lon Johnson, said the dinner had raised over $500,000He said voter turnout is the secret to electing Mark Schauer the next governor, Gary Peters the next U.S. senator from Michigan and capturing a majority of the seats in the Michigan legislature. "Michigan is a blue state, and we should start acting like it," Johnson said.

Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown, the newly named candidate for lieutenant governor, introduced her running mate Mark Schauer. In a rousing campaign style speech, Schauer said that as Governor he would fight discrimination in any form - whether based on who you love, the color of your skin, where you live or anything else. Brown was one of four county clerks that opened their offices to marry same-sex couples in the window of opportunity created after a federal judge ruled Michigan's marriage ban constitutional and before a stay was imposed the next day.

U.S. Rep Gary Peters (D-14), running for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, said the billionaire Koch brothers are pouring millions of dollars into the campaign to reclaim that Senate seat for the Republicans. "This Senate seat should not be for sale. The election should be determined not by a billionaire's purse strings, but by the people," said Peters.

The highlight of the evening was the keynote speech by former U.S. President Bill Clinton who rallied the crowd to embrace the importance of voter turnout in this November's mid-term elections.

"Shame on us if we can't convince the people who vote for us in presidential elections to show up in midterm elections," Clinton told the crowd. "If we don't show up, how can we expect to have anything but a profoundly divided country."

In his 50-minute speech, Clinton discussed topics from universal health care, poverty and raising the minimum wage, to his accomplishments while in office in the 1990s. He praised Michigan's legislators and candidates and lauded Sen. Levin's 36-year legacy in the U.S. Senate. "Senator Levin made his opinions known, whether they were popular at the time or not. But whether what he stood for was popular or unpopular, history has proven that Senator Levin's ideas were the right ones."

Editors Note: Jan Stevenson is one of the vice chairs of the LGBT Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party

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