As a queer man who grew up in Michigan, I sometimes wonder why I decided to come back home. I fled Detroit for New York City after graduating from the University of Michigan in 2006, and truly thought I’d never look back.
Maybe I returned because New York City was already in good hands.
Maybe I returned because I realized that Michigan still needs more love, and that I still have a lot of love to give.
Maybe I returned to see if it was possible that queer men and women could be treated as complete human beings here in the Mitten State.
One thing I’ve certainly learned since being back in Michigan is that the issue of LGBTQ equality has to be re-framed. Appeals for equal treatment under the law as a moral or human rights imperative have fallen short.
Instead, most of the “big, important” conversations our state’s leaders want us to have are about the economy, and equality alone doesn’t fatten anybody’s pockets; it doesn’t make people change the tune of their sacred hymns.
Equality as a commodity? Now that’s a different story, and one that sparks the imagination about what Michigan might look like once we’ve left the debate over LGBTQ rights in the hands of historians.
In the years after marriage equality has passed, I imagine a Michigan where underdeveloped stretches of land around Auburn Hills, Shelby Township, Harrison Township, and Lake Orion have been enjoying a revenue surge. Property values have spiked and tax bases have expanded because new couples have moved in and settled down.
There are new restaurants, bookstores, and bakeries. "Gayborhoods" are the rage, and the chic-ness of Corktown is now available in the outskirts of Grand Rapids.
In the Michigan of my dreams, longtime LGBTQ safe places like Ferndale and Royal Oak are among the most envious places to live, likening them to New York’s eternally hot areas of Greenwich Village and Chelsea.
Once-depressed cities and towns across the state now hum with new life and new money.
In Detroit, new businesses have moved in south of Eight Mile. Woodward Avenue has become too pricey, but that’s just fine because the city now has a number of “America’s Top Ten Coolest Neighborhoods” to choose from.
The migration patterns have reversed. Chicagoans and New Yorkers disillusioned by their cities’ rising cost of living have been leaving in waves for the Motor City.
In my vision for Michigan, this is where we're finally hitting the sweetest note of our comeback song.
Our state has always had something that many others don’t: a great supply of wonderful public universities. In a Michigan where LGBTQ people finally have all their rights as citizens, I envision something else: job opportunities that keep many of these graduates from leaving.
Our college graduates no longer feel pressured to flee like I did. Our state’s quality of life has finally begun to reflect the kind of communities they want to inhabit.
In the Michigan of my dreams, new businesses and major corporations are hungry to expand in the Mitten State – no longer fearing public backlash, loss of talent and a dent to their bottom line – and there is a talent boom like we’ve never seen.
These college graduates now plan the rest of their lives here. They buy homes and build families. Their children grow up, go to college, and settle here too.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Even people like me, who left but have family here, finally have decided to go all-in and buy homes in Michigan. The state has shown that it values our business, and we are investing our money and energy. It seems laughable that I would ever want to move to Austin or Chicago or Denver.
Celebrating our way
In the Michigan I imagine, my queer friends and I are celebrated wherever we go – there are no communities that are “off-limits.” We have taken the Pride Parade and made it our own. What has become an overproduced showcase of corporate hegemony in New York City is a breakthrough declaration of love and life in Detroit. The annual event now runs down Woodward Avenue to the delight of tens of thousands of revelers.
Businesses, which in the past have objected to displays of queer pride, now know they would be fools not to participate. In fact, they view Pride Day the same way they might Black Friday or Valentine’s Day: Another time of year when they stand to make a windfall.
One way I will know the Michigan of my imagination is finally real is when pediatricians who choose not to treat children from gay families lose their jobs – not because of the discrimination, but because their actions endanger the practice’s ability to retain patients and attract new ones. Maybe then we will know we’re finally okay.
Maybe it’s when those of us who come from faraway places won’t be intimidated by buying a house in the suburbs anymore.
Maybe those of us in the LGBTQ community who grew up in Michigan and stayed will finally begin to see that it’s the economic value of our talents that matters most.
Perhaps by then we will all be learning to get along because it really is in the best interests of supporting our families and our communities.
Will there still be people who hate? Of course. But they will be welcome to join the rest of us on our unending drive toward prosperity. Michigan needs all the help it can get, and it simply doesn’t make economic sense to exclude people.