Back in September, I wrote about how Michigan Republicans, facing massive pressure from across the state – including from the business community they worship with such reverance – started discussing updating the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include civil rights protections for the LGB community. They had no intention, I had heard at the time, of including protections for “gender identity” which describes transgender Michiganders, however:
I heard last week that Republicans were in discussions about putting forth similar legislation that would have excluded trans people and would have added exemptions based on “sincerely held religious beliefs”. This is pretty surprising considering the intense backlash that they faced when similar restrictions were first included in an anti-bullying bill – dubbed the “License to Bully Bill” – supported by Republicans in 2011. As I have noted before, no other group covered by the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act has exemptions based on religious beliefs.
Those fears turned out to be true. Ignoring legislation put forth by Michigan Democrats which would provide protections for the entire LGBT community – including trans people – Republicans have introduced legislation for the lame duck session that excludes protections for “gender identity” and has the the “license to bully” component, as well.
Reaction from the LGBT community and from the Michigan Democratic Caucus was swift and emphatic. Freedom Michigan, a broad coalition of LGBT and civil rights groups, created a website where you can send a letter to your legislator demanding that civil rights be expanded to the ENTIRE LGBT community.
Equality Michigan Executive Director Emily Dievendorf issued this powerful statement:
By deciding to leave gender identity and gender expression out of the bill, the sponsors of this bill have handed those who wish to discriminate against lesbisn, gay, bisexual, and transgender people a huge gift. Either intentionally or naively, this bill accomplishes none of its stated goals. We have no intention of leaving the transgender community behind. We also are faced with the reality today’s glaring omission impacts the entire community. As LGBTQ victim and legal advocates can tell you, many lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are also fired because of their gender expression, any bill which is not fully-inclusive is inadequate.
Today’s bill is an unnecessary and wasteful effort to steal attention and credit away from a far more effective bill introduced earlier this year in both the Michigan House and Senate. Equality Michigan, our membership, and our coalition partners will not accept or ignore legislation which not only splits our community up and leaves transgender people behind, but does not even deliver on its promises. Speaker Bolger’s claim that we are only continuing this fight for our own gain is correct. We seek to gain our equality and we don’t feel it should arrive for some now and some later when the whole can be protected from unnecessary vulnerability today.
Here’s the Democratic House Caucus, via House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel:
When it comes to legal protections for marginalized and targeted groups of people, we cannot compromise. No Michigander deserves to be denied employment or housing because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, and the civil rights of all of them must be protected. We can’t support any bill that falls short of that. Justice demands that we stand up for the rights and equality of all people, not just some of them.
It’s anticipated that a bill to be introduced by Rep. Frank Foster (R-Petoskey) would grant civil rights protection on the basis of sexual orientation, but not gender identity. However, in a recent survey, more than half of transgender people asked said they have suffered from workplace discrimination. It’s believed the bill would also allow people to claim a religious exemption that allows them to discriminate against members of the LGBT community.
We must never allow faith to be an excuse for bigotry. One person’s civil rights can never be subject to another’s religious belief. We can’t accept a civil rights law that is so flawed and leaves so many people behind. We urge our Republican counterparts to work with us to create a real civil rights bill that will protect all LGBT Michiganders.
Democratic House member David Knezek went further:
After careful consideration, I have decided that the only way forward to amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act is to fully include protections for the entire the LGBT community. All Michigan residents deserve to be able to live their lives without fear that they have no legal recourse when they face unjust discrimination. It is my hope that my colleagues do what is right and pass a bill that fulfills the long sought-after promise of equal protection under the law for everyone.
This half-measure should outrage ALL Michiganders. There is simply no reason that ALL of our citizens should be denied their basic civil rights just because Republicans are too squicked out by the thought of our transgender friends and neighbors. I commend our Democratic legislators for putting their foot down on this. I suspect that the Republicans are going to need their votes to get this passed so there may be a chance that they can have some role in modifying the legislation being proposed. Sadly, if they don’t, the next legislature that comes into power in January of 2015 is even more extreme in its conservative views that it’s unlikely to move forward with them in office. Our only hope is that this gets done in the lame duck session.
In other LGBT news, a federal court yesterday ruled that Michigan’s ban on domestic partner benefits is unconstitutional:
A federal judge has struck down a Michigan law that denies employer-sponsored benefits to many public employees in same-sex relationships.
The case was filed by five same-sex couples where one of the partners is employed by a local government or school district in Michigan. They challenged the law, which was adopted in 2011 by the Legislature and signed by Governor Rick Snyder.
US District Court Judge David Lawson issued a preliminary injunction against the law, and, now, has issued an order siding with the five couples. He says the case is not about same-sex marriage, which Michigan voters banned 10 years ago. He says the state adopted an unconstitutionally narrow definition of what makes up a family. And he says the law is rooted in official government hostility against people in same-sex relationships.
The country as a whole is moving quickly toward making sure that the LGBT community enjoys all the same benefits and protections as any other community of people. Hopefully some day Michigan lawmakers will evolve and catch up with the people they represent.
[CC LGBT graphic: The Limpa-Vias Blog]