Secure LGBT rights here

Pat Baldwin

It may be surprising to some that Michigan lacks explicit protections for LGBTQ people from discrimination under the law, but that’s the reality in our state and it’s hurting our loved ones every day. It shouldn’t be difficult for us to agree that no one deserves to face discrimination based on who they are or who they love.

I have worked with a lot of groups and know the importance of coalition building in creating change. I understand that change sometimes takes time. But at some point, we have to be brave enough to make that change. That’s why I was so disappointed that after several hearings, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission failed to address the gap in the law. In late September, the Commission considered issuing an interpretive statement regarding whether Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act — which prohibits sex discrimination — includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. That momentum was the result of months of organizing by Equality Michigan and other groups, but at the last minute, the commission refrained from bringing the vote forward.

Subsequently, advocates banded together again and 30 legal experts signed a letter reiterating the importance of clarifying the law. In mid-November, LGBTQ supporters testified at a hearing in front of the commission. But the request was once again tabled and no vote took place.

I’m a straight woman, an African-American and a person of faith. My Catholic teaching tells me that I must support LGBTQ equality — not despite my faith, but because of it. We all must aim to be stronger advocates and we must advance universal values of love and kindness towards all, rather than enforce divisive, unfair policies. I believe that LGBTQ people, like anyone else, should be free to be their authentic selves. The Jesus I serve is one that loves everyone for who they are. Although I’m an ally and not LGBTQ myself, I have as much responsibility as anyone else for doing what’s right.

As a lifelong Detroit resident, I’ve seen firsthand the issues that the community faces in our state. And as part of my role on the board of directors at SAGE Metro Detroit, an affiliate of SAGE, the nation’s largest organization working on behalf of LGBTQ older adults, I’ve had the privilege of working with the LGBTQ community for a long time. Through my work I’ve seen that elders are especially at risk of unique forms of discrimination.

While many younger LGBTQ people have grown up in an environment that affirms their identities and allows them to be confident and secure in who they are, that wasn’t the case for older generations. Not allowing people to be themselves for most of their lives has caused damage psychosocially, mentally and physically to older LGBTQ people. They often lack a strong personal support system and are afraid to come out, correct, or stand up to staff and personnel who make anti-LGBTQ remarks or assumptions about sexual orientation or gender identity. And many senior centers have no specific LGBTQ initiatives or programming. I know for a fact that nondiscrimination protections would go a long way in ensuring comfort, safety and security for the elder LGBTQ community.

Our laws need to catch up to our lived reality. LGBTQ people are living, working and thriving in our communities. Like anyone else, they deserve basic protections from discrimination. Clarifying that the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity would affirm that Michigan is a forward thinking, inclusive state, and that we know equal treatment is the right thing to do. I hope that the commission swiftly addresses this question in 2018 — and that they are brave enough to finally do the right thing.

Pat Baldwin is a member of the board of directors for SAGE Metro Detroit.