Labor Voices: Protect the LGBT community

Ron Bieber

June is Pride Month. The LGBT community comes together to advocate and celebrate at parades, picnics, and festivals all across the country. That makes this the perfect time for our elected leaders in Lansing to finally get on the right side of history by expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect Michigan’s LGBT residents from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

This important legislation was recently re-introduced by Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, and Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor — and it’s passage is long overdue. These bills have been introduced in nearly every legislative session since 1983. But year after year, Republican leaders in the Michigan Legislature have blocked these bills from getting an up or down vote.

Equality shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or an independent — everyone should be treated fairly and equally under the law.

Nobody should ever have to worry about losing their job or being evicted from their home based on who they love. And yet, right now it remains perfectly legal to fire someone in Michigan just because they’re gay or transgender. That’s just plain wrong.

But even in the year 2017, some elected officials are still on the wrong side of history.

While Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette have both said they oppose discrimination, they have steadfastly refused to support expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect LGBT residents from discrimination on the job.

And just last week, Donald Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, refused to say if she would prohibit private schools that receive federal funding from discriminating against LGBT students.

By refusing to support strong civil rights protections for the LGBT community, Republicans like Calley, Schuette, and DeVos are sending the wrong message to our young people — and to the business community. After all, this is one issue where labor unions and many large Michigan employers are on the same page.

Companies like Ford, GM, Chrysler, Dow, Whirlpool, and Kellogg have all supported anti-discrimination policies for LGBT workers, because they understand the value in attracting and building a talented and highly-skilled workforce.

The AFL-CIO supports equal rights in the workplace through Pride at Work, a nonprofit organization that aims to organize and educate workers about the benefits of a union contract for LGBT working people, and to build support and solidarity for the union movement within the LGBT community.

If business and labor can find common ground on this issue, then Republicans and Democrats in Lansing should be able to come together and do the right thing.

Eighteen states and 42 municipalities in Michigan have already approved measures that protect LGBT residents from discrimination. We can either join them and put Michigan in a stronger position to compete for good jobs — or we can side with states like North Carolina and Texas, which have already paid a high economic price for passing new laws that discriminate against the LGBT community.

The choice should be easy. It’s time for Republican leaders — including Gov. Rick Snyder, Calley, Schuette, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, and House Speaker Tom Leonard — to stop making excuses and pass these bills. Let’s send a message loud and clear that discrimination has no place in the Great Lakes State.

Rob Bieber is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.


Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.