New ballot initiative seeks to expand civil rights protections for Michigan’s LGBTQ community.
A citizen-led ballot initiative to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) to include discrimination protections for members of the LGBTQ community is moving forward. On Jan. 7, the group Fair and Equal Michigan asked the state Board of Canvassers to approve the wording of a petition that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Michigan currently affords no protection to LGBTQ people in areas of employment, housing and public accommodation discrimination.
“When I co-sponsored Michigan’s Civil Rights Act in 1973 with Rep. Daisy Elliott, it was about treating everybody equally, especially in employment, housing and our most basic of services; it is long past the time to recognize sexual orientation and gender identity,” Mel Larsen, former state representative and original sponsor of Michigan’s Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act, said in a statement.
“The legislature can act at any time to amend the Civil Rights Act. This coalition of Michigan citizens has support across LGBTQ groups, the business and philanthropic sectors, and both sides of the political aisle. There is more that brings us together than forces us apart.”
Business leaders backing the petition drive include DTE Energy President and CEO Jerry Norcia, Consumers Energy President and CEO Patti Poppe, Herman Miller President and CEO Andi Owen, Whirlpool Corp. Vice President Jeff Noel and Dow Inc. CEO Jim Fitterling.
“Advancing the fair treatment of all people — regardless of their race, religion, disability, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity — is a key component of retaining and growing a world-class, talented workforce,” Poppe said in a statement.
Once petition language is approved, the group will start gathering signatures. If it gathers 340,047 signatures within 180 days, it goes to the state legislature, which would have 40 days to adopt it or allow it to go to the ballot for the Nov. 3 general election.
Efforts to expand civil rights to the LGBTQ community have been going on for two decades; however, the Republican-led legislature has never brought the matter up for a vote because of concerns around religious freedom protections.
“Most Michiganders support enacting workplace and housing protections for the LGBTQ community and will back every effort to implement these protections in law,” said State Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield).
Petition language would expand the definition of “sex” in the ELCRA to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression,” guaranteeing safeguards in housing, public accommodation and employment.
“In our role as elected state legislators, State Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) and I introduced legislation last year to add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the existing protected classes in Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act — and the majority party has refused to even hold committee hearings on our bills,” Moss said. “This announcement of a prospective ballot proposal also serves to renew our call for the legislature to move swiftly to pass the bills we sponsored because Michigan residents are fed up with inaction.”
Ron Elkus, retired owner of The Shirt Box, said it’s amazing to him that in the year 2020, LGBTQ folks still lack civil rights protection in Michigan. “I thought it was interesting that once marriage equality passed, you could get married on a Sunday and fired from your job on Monday because you’re LGBTQ.
“I think the majority of the public doesn’t realize the LGBTQ community doesn’t have civil rights protection,” he added. “Still, it always scares me that state voters won’t pass it.”
Sam Dubin, founder of NEXTGen Pride, an affinity group for Jewish LGBTQ young professionals, says he’s in favor of updating the civil rights act to protect all people from discrimination. “I think everyone should feel free to be their authentic self.”
Dubin said the LGBTQ community has been trying to get these protections passed for the last two decades, and he thinks this might be the year it finally happens. “It does seem like there is a desire and a will on part of the public to get this done.”
Roz Keith, executive director and founder of Stand With Trans and mother to a transgender child as well as a strong ally and advocate for the LGBTQ community, says that while “of course, everyone wants to expand Elliott-Larsen, the community is divided on the methodology of a ballot initiative.
“I don’t believe it should be up to my neighbors to vote on my civil rights,” she said. “Whatever money is going to be spent on this ballot drive could be better used by educating and lobbying our elected officials to get Elliott-Larsen amended in the proper way. From where I sit, it’s better to get laws changed that way.”
ACLU Executive Director Dave Noble also believes the legislature should act quickly to amend the act. In a statement, he wrote: “We support expanding our civil rights laws to explicitly include comprehensive protections for LGBTQ Michiganders. A citizen’s initiative is a tool to get legislation before lawmakers. Legislation supported by LGBTQ organizations and allies was already introduced in the spring and lawmakers could act today to ensure that nobody is being turned away from a business, denied service, fired from their job, or evicted from their home simply because of who they are or whom they love.
“The legislature’s failure to act is forcing the people they serve to take on this very time-intensive and expensive initiative. Lawmakers could and should schedule a vote immediately on what is already before them.”