Jay Kaplan celebrated as Pride Month Game Changers honoree

June 8th, 2024

DETROIT -- Jay Kaplan is encouraged by the progress the LGBTQ+ community has made since he came out as a gay man more than 30 years ago, but Kaplan stresses the fight for equality is far from over.

“In any type of civil rights struggle, it’s going to take time,” Kaplan said. “It’s also going to be very frustrating. There’s still a lot of collateral damage that was caused by laws that recognize LGBTQ+ families and relationships. Those things don’t get easier just because you get a favorable decision or statute.”

As the staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan’s LGBTQ+ Project since its founding in 2001, Kaplan is well versed in the ongoing battle for LGBTQ+ rights. And now as part of Pride Month, Kaplan’s impact in the community is being recognized by the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers and Comerica Bank.

"As we recognize the contributions of game changing leaders in our community throughout Pride Month, we're honored to celebrate Jay Kaplan and the work of ACLU of Michigan's LGBTQ+ Project," said Kevin Brown, director of community impact for Ilitch Sports + Entertainment. "As an original member of the Project, Jay has contributed to landmark cases advocating for laws and policies on behalf of countless LGBTQ+ people across Michigan."

In 2017, the ACLU of Michigan formally named the LGBTQ+ Project in honor of longtime supporters Nancy Katz and Margo Dichtelmiller. Kaplan said project attorneys help advocate for laws and policies that will help LGBTQ+ people achieve equality.

“We focus on impact litigation,” Kaplan said. “We’re looking at things that are going to impact a large group of people. But obviously, the individuals are always important in terms of their lives and how they are affected.”

The ACLU is a nationwide non-profit organization that works to defend and preserve the rights guaranteed to United States citizens. Kaplan said the ACLU of Michigan, located in downtown Detroit, has evolved to help improve the overall quality of life for LGBTQ+ people.

“When I first started working here, we didn’t have explicit civil rights protection in our laws,” Kaplan said. “There was no right to get married, no recognition of LGBTQ+ families and no true awareness of transgender issues. I’ve seen a lot of progress over the last couple decades. Part of that is enlightening legislators and getting favorable decisions from the courts, but there’s also been a change of hearts and minds.”

The goal of the Nancy Katz & Margo Dichtelmiller LGBTQ+ Project is to ensure that LGBTQ+ people receive equal rights, personal autonomy and the freedom of expression and association without being discriminated.

Kaplan, who grew up in Southfield, Mich., said fighting for the state’s LGBTQ+ community is very important to him.

“We’ve made a lot of progress, but anytime you are involved with a civil rights movement and make progress, you also see pushback,” Kaplan said. “We are seeing a concentrated effort across the nation of attacks against the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender people, by policies and legislation being introduced.”

Kaplan said he will always stand up for the LGBTQ+ community in and out of the courtroom, regardless of any formal recognition. However, being named a Game Changers honoree holds a special place in Kaplan’s heart.

“It’s humbling and heartwarming,” Kaplan said. “On a personal note, my dad always loved baseball and the Detroit Tigers. He’d always have his radio on listening to [former longtime Tigers radio announcer] Ernie Harwell, so that too just makes this an extra special honor.”

For more information about the ACLU of Michigan’s Nancy Katz & Margo Dichtelmiller LGBTQ+ Project, click here.