Protect LGBT people in the workplace
Michigan is on the verge of joining smart, successful, prosperous states around the nation by adding protections against discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s human rights laws.
Effective leaders do not get bogged down by the status quo and look ahead to the possible. Michigan is, unfortunately, a state where it is still legal to fire people or deny them housing because they are gay or because they have a non-conforming appearance and upset our ideas of masculinity and femininity.
I am very proud to have joined the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition this year, a new group of businesses that has joined with human rights organizations, elected officials from many cities and nonprofits to move us past this and instead take a principled stand.
Effective leaders live their values. If we want a welcoming state where people are measured by their talents and brains, we must have policies in place that support that goal. The reason so many diverse interests are joining together is simple: Talent is vital to our state’s future.
And right now, our state’s laws essentially tell talented gay and transgender individuals that they should not stay in or come to Michigan, regardless of their skills and the value they may bring to employers, educators or the community as a whole. It’s a giant “Closed for Business” sign, at a time when Michigan can least afford to tell anyone to avoid our state.
Legislation has been introduced that would change all of this. It would include in the state’s landmark Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act, which protects people of color, women and others from being discriminated against, a provision that includes protection against discrimination for “sexual orientation and gender identity.”
This is virtually identical to language that has been adopted in a number of states and by the federal government — as well as the majority of Fortune 500 companies. As Michigan seeks to reinvent itself, to become authentically the place where talent wants to assemble to purposely transform our state and become an international leader in business, work and play, we must take this step and do it now.
Effective leaders build alliances where there is common ground. The Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition now includes businesses from Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids such as Dow, Whirlpool, Delta Airlines, Strategic Staffing Solutions, Steelcase, Herman Miller, the Grand Rapids and Detroit chambers of commerce, and many others. This can serve as a model for other public policy efforts that affect our whole state, not just one community. In this international economy, the days are gone when we can operate in silos, looking only at our own small backyard.
In recent days, as the conversation in Lansing heated up around whether it is time to make these changes, some began advocating to remove members of the transgender community from the list of those protected from discrimination. This would be a major mistake, throwing under the bus one group that often suffers the most discrimination and violence, and thus is greatly in need of the protection of our civil rights laws.
Effective leaders lead. Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville have both wisely signaled a willingness to move Michigan forward by advancing nondiscrimination measures this year. The time is now for Michigan’s political leaders to join and support our state’s business community, local officials, many religious leaders and education groups and improve the state’s business climate by helping attract and retain the best talent possible.
Contact your lawmaker and ask him or her to support reforms to the Elliott-Larsen Act that will protect all of Michigan from discrimination.
Josh Linkner is CEO of Detroit Venture Partners.