Election 2024

Gay lawmaker Noah Arbit is fighting for hate crimes protections in Michigan

Michigan State Rep. Noah Arbit
Michigan State Rep. Noah Arbit Photo: Michigan House Democrats

Michigan state Rep. Noah Arbit, who at 27 was the youngest LGBTQ+ person ever elected to serve in the Michigan Legislature, is a man in motion.

In college, Arbit majored in Comparative Politics and Jewish Studies and took a semester off to volunteer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Her loss to Donald Trump was a clarion call to public service for the 21-year-old.

After college, Arbit joined Michigan gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer’s successful campaign and later worked as a fundraiser for Michigan House Democrats.

Following the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh in October, 2018 — the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history — Arbit founded the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus to “elevate Jewish voices” and “combat antisemitism and extremism” in Michigan.

He remains a staunch supporter of Israel.

We spoke as the rep was traveling from the state capital back to his hometown in West Bloomfield near Detroit, which he’s running to represent for a second term come January 2025.

Arbit had just met with a group of students from his home district and was on his way to an event with out Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel about rising antisemitism in Michigan.

LGBTQ Nation: You’ve talked about the importance to you of the Old Testament phrase “tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” or “justice, justice shall you pursue,” in particular in relation to the prosecution of a sexual predator who assaulted you at a young age. You were 18 when you testified against him. What was that experience like and how has it shaped the man you are today?

Rep. Noah Arbit: Far too many people experience sexual violence through no fault of their own. Sexual predation exists, and I think that it has made me an advocate and an activist and want to be a crusader for justice in every way. We do have legislation to reform the statute of limitations for sex crimes in Michigan, and I would like to see that passed as soon as possible. It’s incredibly important to give justice for survivors.

There’s another Hebrew phrase, “tikkun olam,” which describes the concept of “repairing the world.” What part does that idea play in your work as an activist and legislator?

It’s everything. I talked a lot about this, running for office. Repairing the world is a very intoxicating idea. I can’t repair the whole world, but I can at least repair my small corner of it, and that’s what I’m aiming to do, representing my district, which happens to be the most Jewish district in the state.

Being Jewish as well as being gay, those two facets of who I am play a large role in the fights that I’ve taken on and the causes that I’ve chosen to lead on and spearhead. And that’s why hate crimes, to me, is my biggest priority, in terms of what I need to accomplish as a legislator and putting that on the agenda. It’s incredibly important to me and the community that I represent.

As a one-time staffer for Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on her 2018 gubernatorial campaign, describe your pride in the epic Charlie’s Angels pose struck by the governor, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and what you think it represents for women in Michigan politics.

(Laughing) Michigan women are not to be messed with, which is why we’ve elected such badass women in Michigan and why Michigan women as voters, and all those who support them, took back the right to reproductive freedom in our ballot initiative and enshrined it in the state constitution after the fall of [Roe] in 2022.

Nessel is one of two out AGs, along with Arizona’s Kris Mayes that I’ve interviewed, and they’re both prosecuting fake Donald Trump electors in their states. What kind of difference can states and local jurisdictions make in bringing justice to Trump and the Stop the Steal conspirators, or other issues the federal government can’t seem to grapple with?

Obviously, we’ve seen the states take action against Donald Trump for his crimes, most recently in New York. The ongoing criminal cases in Michigan and Arizona are really important not just for Trump, but for democracy, for upholding our democracy, protecting our democracy and ensuring that our republic survives.

Republicans like to talk about election integrity, but frankly, they’re the ones who are trying to foment coups and insurrections and overturn elections. Democratic attorneys general and secretaries of state across the country, including right here in Michigan with AG Nessel and Secretary Benson, as well as our democratic legislature, are working overtime to make sure that Michigan’s democracy is sound and safe and hardened and resilient from actors bad actors like Donald Trump and his lackeys.

You were director of communications for the Oakland County prosecutor’s office before running for your seat in the Michigan House. Now as a legislator, what’s more important? The work or the message about the work?

Both are incredibly important. Obviously, if you’re just caring about messaging and you’re not doing any work, then what’s the point of being in your seat, in your job? The work is most important, but you’ve got to have the right message, as well. I’ll give you an example.

My efforts in the state house for my first term have been centered around strengthening and reforming Michigan’s woefully outdated and inadequate hate crime laws, to protect more Michiganders from targeted hate violence. And after it passed the House with bipartisan support, Republicans and Fox News across the country — including [Texas governor] Greg Abbott, who was tweeting against my bill — decided to start a disinformation campaign, a fake news campaign against my legislation, claiming that it would criminalize misgendering people without any sort of underlying criminal conduct. Of course, misgendering is rude and disrespectful, but by itself is not a felony.

So that has made the legislation difficult to pass. However, I am confident that we will ultimately pass the Michigan Hate Crime Act, but I do think that messaging is really important, and combating disinformation is one of the things that legislators across the country now have to worry about.

In April, seven young men attacked two students at the library at Michigan State University, using anti-gay slurs while they did it, but based on current Michigan law, as you say, they can’t be prosecuted for a hate crime.

That’s correct.

AG Nessel brought that up and rebuked lawmakers for failing to come together on the issue. Do you see your bill passing anytime soon? There’s clearly a need.

AG Nessel and I are in lockstep on the need to reform and strengthen Michigan’s hate crime law and transform Michigan from a national laggard to a national leader on the issue of hate crime prevention, intervention, and prosecution. That’s exactly what my legislation would do, which is why I’ve worked with her, and she was at our press conference announcing it last April. Both she and I remain committed. In fact, I’m on my way back home to an event with her about rising antisemitism in Michigan.

But I think it’ll be an issue that we tackle after the election in November. It will be on the agenda, and I will make sure of that come hell or high water.

One of your priorities is addressing mental health, and you say you’ve suffered with depression yourself. What kind of effects do you think Don’t Say Gay bills and legislation attacking trans youth and bathroom bills and all the rest are having on LGBTQ+ youth?

We need to make sure that everyone has access to mental health, kids, seniors, everyone in between. I, certainly like many people, struggled with my mental health in various times in my life, and I would not be where I am today if I didn’t have the rights, resources, and opportunities to make sure that my struggles weren’t sentences. But that just isn’t the case for far too many people, and I’m not more worthy than them. I’m just more lucky.

The issue that we have here, especially with LGBTQ+ youth, is that we’re already dealing with the personal struggle to come out, to be who we are, and to accept ourselves. That’s already an enormous challenge and enormous burden and strain on our mental health. And then to have basically an entire political party and other institutions pile on and say, “Actually, no, you don’t belong. You aren’t safe, you aren’t worthy enough to be part of normal society and we’re going to make sure that we do everything we can to prevent you from living up to your fullest potential.” I think that is just the most heinous, heinous thing that you can say to a kid, let alone anyone.

I want LGBTQ+ people, especially kids in Michigan and across the country, to know that we stand with them and they don’t have to be afraid and that they should never listen to anyone who tells them that they can’t be who they are, because that’s what they need to do for their lives. Take it from someone who wasted far too much time hiding and suffering.

When did you come out and are you seeing anyone?

I came out in February of 2021, and nope, not seeing anyone.

Are you on the market?

(Laughing) You know, I’m very busy. I’m very busy being a legislator and campaigning for reelection. But if the right person comes around, you know, I’ll certainly have to evaluate that if they do show up.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and husband Chasten are neighbors up the peninsula in Traverse City. Let’s say you got married tomorrow. Would you take your husband’s name like Chasten did?


You’re a member of the Michigan legislative LGBTQ+ caucus, and you founded the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus. Who parties harder?

Oh, I’d have to say the gays, but I would say the gay Jews party the hardest.

(Laughing) On a scale of 1 to 10, how effective do you think compulsory national service in the military or Peace Corps or public service would be for young people and the country?

I’ve thought a lot about this, and I do think it’s probably an unfeasible idea just because I don’t know that we’d have the support to implement it. I actually spoke about this in a Memorial Day speech that I did in my district in West Bloomfield last week.

Because of the polarization that we see and the frayed bonds and the fact that so many people across the country no longer really recognize each other as neighbors, as fellow citizens, we have to do what we can to undo some of the segregation. And I don’t just mean racial segregation, but the fact that we no longer see each other across racial, religious, geographic — all of these divides that we have. We need to bring people together.

I have a 96-year-old grandfather who served in the Army during the Korean War. He had different people in his unit who were from all different parts of the country, who were every race, ethnicity, origin, and that kind of mixing doesn’t always happen on its own. So we need to create the circumstances where young people can find purpose, meaning, belonging. That’s the issue that we face most in this country: the crisis in belonging, the crisis in purpose, the crisis of loneliness. People need meaning and a sense of connection, connection with people who are unlike themselves, and to see that we actually do have more common than what divides us.

What’s the single most important thing the world should do to address climate change?

Oh, really good question. Actually, heat pumps. That’s gonna be my answer.

I think it would be fair to say that you have a fashion-forward style of dress. I’m seeing bold prints and bright colors, color blocking, and a lot of exotic materials. Where did you pick up your fashion sense?

(Laughing) Well, everything in my life is blue. Everything in my world is blue. My car, my keys, my phone, my wallet, my, like — literally, everything I own is blue and a very specific shade of light cerulean. And I’m very much known for having, like, blue blazers and blue pants and blue this and especially that shade of blue. I always joke that if I ever own a house and I’m interior decorating, I’m gonna have to hire someone to be, like, a palette consultant to specifically tell me, “No, no, not everything can be blue in this house.”

I’m gonna guess that this obsession with cerulean goes back to the Devil Wears Prada.

It really doesn’t. It’s just my favorite color, always has been. You’re not the first to say it, though.

I’m not gonna lie: a look at your social reveals a big change in your appearance over the last few months. You look great. What can you share about it?

Thank you. You know, there comes a time in people’s lives when they want to get healthy. I’m focused less on appearance and more about healthy living and being active. I think however people choose to live is good, but, you know, trying to be healthy is good.

Your social accounts describe you as a “nice Jewish boy,” a “cerulean aficionado” — 

Sometimes nice, usually nice, but with an asterisk.

Also as a “Madonna stan” and a “penguin lover” who’s “fighting hate and extremism.” So, I’ve got some rapid-fire questions for you.

Sure, let’s go.

What’s the nicest thing about you?

The nicest thing? Well, I’m nice. I generally am really nice, unless someone pisses me off or is a jerk or a d**k, then I’m not so nice. And then they’re gonna wish they had been nice.

Your date doesn’t know what cerulean is. Love him or leave him?

Well, they’ll know after they meet me, so it’s fine. Not an issue.

Favorite Madonna track, favorite Madonna album.

Oh, that’s so hard. “Lucky Star” is the first Madonna song I ever heard. So I’ve got to always say that, but a deep cut off the Ray of Light album, “Drowned World/Substitute for Love,” amazing, amazing, beautiful song about what’s worth more, ambition and career or love, and the tension between that. I resonate so much with that. It’s a beautiful, beautiful track.

I would say Rebel Heart from 2015 is my favorite Madonna album.

Why penguins?

I’ve always loved penguins. I think they’re cute, and there are 17 different types of penguins. I’ve actually traveled around the world specifically to destinations just to see penguins. I’ve been to Chile and Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand. Not been to Antarctica yet. Not sure how I’d do with two or three weeks cooped up on a ship.

What’s the most important fight against hate and extremism you’re waging in Michigan right now?

Passing my hate crime bills. But other legislation that I hope to pass has to do with taking on far right militia groups. The Michigan militia is big, unfortunately, and they’re actually illegal under the Michigan Constitution. Co-opting law enforcement functions and acting as a paramilitary group is illegal under Michigan law and the Michigan Constitution, but there’s really no enforcement mechanism and unfortunately there’s no penalty ascribed to it.

These groups want to foment civil war. They want to overthrow the government. These aren’t the types of groups that we should be coddling. Paramilitary groups, militia groups should not be able to function, especially in a state where we just uncovered a plot for them to kidnap and kill, after a summary trial, our governor.

What’s the best thing about serving the constituents of Michigan’s District 20?

I think the best thing about it is that I grew up in West Bloomfield, in this community that I now represent, so I represent people that I have known and loved and adored and for my whole life. When I’m knocking on doors or getting constituent letters, seeing the names of my neighbors from when I was a little kid, or parents of classmates or former teachers or family friends or people that I go to synagogue with, like, it just always puts a smile on my face. It’s such a joy to be representing the community that shaped me and made me who I am.

Don't forget to share:

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated

The secret language that helped queer-owned businesses identify themselves to those in the know

Previous article

Trixie Mattel shuts down religious bigotry towards queer people in just one sentence.

Next article