Whitmer, lawmakers to push anti-discrimination bill for LGBT community

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, left, chats with Genny Maze of Royal Oak after a pride town hall meeting at Affirmations, in Ferndale, Monday evening.

Ferndale — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state lawmakers plan Tuesday to announce legislation that would amend Michigan’s main civil rights law to provide protection for gays, transgender people and others.

The proposed bills would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 in a bid to prohibit discrimination against the LGBT community when it comes to consideration for housing, public accommodations, employment and more.  

“It’s not just the right thing to do … but it’s also the smart thing to do for our state, for our future, for the people who call it home and for our ability to compete in the world,” Whitmer said Monday during a town hall at Affirmations in Ferndale, the state's largest LGBTQ community center.

The announcement coincides with the first full week of Pride Month and comes months after Whitmer in January signed an executive order strengthening workplace protections for state government employees and those at companies who contract with or receive grants from the state, proclaiming that Michigan "must be a model of equal opportunity." 

Her Republican predecessor, Rick Snyder, had signed a similar directive in late 2018 but included an exemption for religious organizations that Whitmer eliminated.

In describing her support for actions to protect the LGBT community, Whitmer recalled a state resident saying he might move to Oregon after his gay son promised to not stay in Michigan “until his rights are enshrined in law."

"That was the heart-wrenching story I take with me every single day,” she said.

The Elliott-Larsen Act prohibits discrimination in employment, public housing and places of public accommodation based on factors such as religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight or marital status.

The state Civil Rights Commission last year issued an interpretive statement holding that current law offers some protections for gay and transgender residents.

In July, then-Attorney General Bill Schuette said only lawmakers could make that call, but the commission ignored his opinion, and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights has continued to investigate complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Despite that, advocates say broader protections are still needed and should be written into state law to ensure a lasting effect.

Michigan State Senator Jeremy Moss holds up a bill that would amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and protect LGBTQ citizens from discrimination during a pride town hall meeting at Affirmations, in Ferndale on Monday.

Michigan Sen. Jeremy Moss, who is among the co-sponsors of the proposed legislation update, noted that LGBT residents can still be fired for their sexual orientation.

“People don’t realize we don’t have fundamental … protections,” he said, noting that ordinances addressing the issue in some communities across the state only offer “piecemeal” protections.

Whitmer's stance encouraged Madison Bryant-Carter, a Detroit high school student who identifies as bisexual.

“It’s good she is putting a view on that,” the teen said after the town hall.  

Activists who gave Whitmer a standing ovation during the event said the governor had long been making inroads with the LGBT community.

“We do know she’s a woman of integrity and quite frankly, I trust her,” said Jeynce Poindexter, a transgender specialist victim advocate with Equality Michigan.