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Michigan's Lesbian AG Dana Nessel on the Importance of Her Close Race

Dana Nessel

She's running against a Trump-backed conspiracy theorist whose claim to fame is losing a case related to meddling in the 2020 election.

With less than a week before Election Day and stakes that could not be higher, the race for attorney general in Michigan is surprisingly tight. The race is between the out incumbent Democrat, Dana Nessel, and Republican Matthew DePerno, who famously lost a case as part of the Big Lie election meddling conspiracy leading to the January 6 insurrection.

Nessel tells The Advocate the attacks on the LGBTQ+ community this election cycle are opportunistic and have no widespread constituency in the Great Lakes State.

"[Republicans] get the attention because they have money, and unfortunately because the Republican Party now has become the party of homophobia and transphobia, that [anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric] gets spotlighted a lot," she says. "But it's not how most Michiganders view the community, and it's not how most Americans view the community."

The married mother of two is the first LGBTQ+ person to serve in statewide office in Michigan. She says she's heartened by the younger generation of Gen Z Americans who have these issues figured out and hopes the vitriol is transitory.

"The stuff that was done right now, the relentless attack on transgender youth and against drag queens -- all of these wedge issues that really have nothing to do with making people's lives better," she says.

"It's only an attack on some of our most vulnerable members of society in an effort to divide us," Nessel explains. "But I have to hope that the younger generations will see it for what it is and that this will be an ugly, ugly period of time that will quickly pass, and we'll be back on the road to ensuring equal rights for all people, including the LGBT community and that things will have changed to the better in the long run."

DePerno threatened to prosecute Nessel if he wins the top law enforcement job in Michigan, saying Nessel failed to investigate the 2020 election. He is a Trump-backed candidate who supported the effort to overturn the 2020 election by filing and losing a lawsuit in Michigan that sought to overturn the results. He's also under investigation for his involvement in that scheme by an independent prosecutor, and his law license is under review.

Most recently, 43.7 percent of voters support Nessel, while 42.5 percent support DePerno, according to a WDIV/Detroit Newspoll conducted October 26-28.

Nessel points to DePerno's history as a significant difference between the two.

"Here's the guy who, the thing that he's best known for is losing a case where he tried to subvert democracy in our state and that he's still trying as of this day to decertify the result of the 2020 election," she says.

She says that whereas that is his most notable achievement, she is best known for securing marriage equality in Michigan and across the country.

Before becoming attorney general, Nessel handled a Michigan lesbian couple's lawsuit in DeBoer v. Snyder, which challenged the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The case was ultimately consolidated in Obergefell v. Hodges, inwhich a Supreme Court ruling made marriage equality the law across the U.S.

She cites her efforts to ensure the state's hate-crime act includes sexual orientation and gender identity protections. In addition, Nessel points to her arguments in Michigan's Supreme Court in Rouch World v. Michigan Department of Civil Rights, which expanded state civil rights protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

"And I'm running against someone who believes this community shouldn't have any rights at all, who demonizes them, who vilifies them, and who incites acts of hatred and violence towards them," Nessel says.

"I mean, call me old-fashioned, but I think that the attorney general ought to protect the people who live in this state and not subject them to acts of hatred and violence," she says. "I think all people in my state are worthy of equal protection under the law."

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