Conservatives, LGBT — March 24, 2015 at 7:12 am

Anti-trans* woman uses Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to sue Planet Fitness for terminating her membership


Earlier this month I wrote about a woman in Midland who had her Planet Fitness membership cancelled because she spent her days in their gym warning anyone who would listen that Planet Fitness had a “No Judgment Zone” policy that permitted a transgender woman to enter the women’s locker room. Keep in mind that their locker rooms have private changing stalls and their toilet stalls have doors on them. But the presence of a “man” in the locker room was simply too much for Yvette Cormier who then returned every day the following week to “warn” women about Planet Fitness’s horrible policy of tolerance, inclusion, and acceptance.

Planet Fitness told her to knock it off, she didn’t, so they revoked her membership. Done and done.

Now a legal group with ties to an extremist right wing Christian organization is suing Planet Fitness on behalf of Cormier for their policy and they are invoking – I’m not kidding here – the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. According to the suit filed by the Kallman Legal Group, Planet Fitness is guilty of invasion of privacy, two counts of sexual harassment, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and breach of contract. The sexual harassment and retaliation charges are, according to them, direct violations of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act because Cormier is a woman.

You can read the entire complaint HERE where they comically claim that Planet Fitness’s policy “enabled and encouraged possible criminal activity.”

There is ruthless irony in this argument because LGBT advocates have been trying to get the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act changed to include the LGBT community; the full LGBT community including trans* people. It is largely because of transphobia that a move toward updating the ELCA was abandoned during the 2014 lame duck session. Now this same civil rights law is being used AGAINST a business that is simply living out its credo of being a “No Judgment Zone”. To add further insult to already egregious injury, there is a legislative effort that is in its final stages that will allow businesses to deny services to people based on so-called “sincerely-held religious beliefs”. Tolerance and acceptance are, apparently, not part of those religious beliefs.

I bring up “religious beliefs” because the Kallman Legal Group is tied to a religious group that is about as extreme as it gets. They have sued to prevent Jackson Public Schools from allowing a Gay Straight Alliance club at the high school and they recently opposed a non-discrimination ordinance for housing, employment and public accommodations in Delta Township. The owner of the law firm is David Kallman and he has quite a history:

At the center of the [Delta Township] controversy are attorneys David Kallman and William Wagner.

Kenneth Fletcher, supervisor of the Delta Township Board of Trustees, called the Kallman/Wagner legal memo concerns “baseless” in an email to Between the Lines.

“As soon as I read Mr. Kallman’s memo, I knew that he wasn’t just a ‘concerned resident.’ His claims that our proposed ordinance would legalize polygamy, incest, pedophilia and necrophilia were outlandish and inflammatory. It became very evident that Mr. Kallman was a far right activist with a radical and hateful political agenda,” Fletcher said. “It’s sad that Mr. Kallman would purposely mislead well intentioned residents with his hateful fear mongering campaign against our non-discrimination ordinance.”

Kallman runs a small family practice based in Delta Township – a community west of Lansing – while Wagner is a professor at the Thomas Cooley Law School in downtown Lansing. Cooley is a private law school and Wagner teaches Constitutional law there.

Both men serve on the board of the Colorado based Salt and Light Global ministries. The ministry was started by Wagner in 1986, although the organization is just now in the process of filing for formal nonprofit status with the IRS. Salt and Light was formed “to proclaim God’s truth as relates to life, liberty and good governance under the rule of law.” The ministry argues that it’s mission is for “cultural transformation and renewal” and requires the recognition “that a proper understanding of the spheres of societal authority, and the First Principles that govern them, must be restored within the universal Church and society at large.”

The ministry explains : “First Principles” as follows: “First Principles are moral absolutes God reveals in His Word and places on the human heart. Present at the creation of the world, these self-evident truths correspond to reality and remain constant through time. First Principles therefore provide a reliable objective standard by which to measure whether an action is good or bad, right or wrong, just or unjust. Salt & Light Global recognizes that lasting transformation is only possible if grounded in God’s law. Therefore, it desires to see First Principles embraced by every social sphere in every community.”

In the ministry’s worldview, the Bible is infallible, and “as followers of Christ, we have a responsibility to bring to life to our community and to ensure that the various social institutions are operating as God designed.”

In short, Kallman and Wagner represent and run an organization whose purpose is to enforce their specific Christian worldview through all spheres of society – business, education and government as well as church – at the expense of alternative beliefs or values.

It’s bad enough when Christian zealots try to inflict their worldview on others in our day to day lives. It’s another thing entirely when they try do so in our laws and government and that it is exactly what the Kallman group does. Their perversion of our state’s civil rights law is offensive and, in fact, Orwellian. What they call their sincerely-held religious beliefs look nothing like the message of tolerance, acceptance, and love found in the words of Jesus Christ as written in the Bible.

The trans* woman that so rocked the tiny world of Yvette Cormier was not even a member of the gym where Cormier confronted her. She was there as the guest of a friend and, in fact, had simply placed her street clothes in a locker in the locker room while she worked out. She never disrobed and Cormier had full access to privacy through private changing stalls and toilet stalls with doors on them.

There’s also the fact that, despite her contention that Planet Fitness intentionally inflicted emotional distress on her and that she experienced embarrassment and humiliation, she was the one who made a public issue about this, running to the press to tell her story. She could have quietly taken her business elsewhere, using our beloved capitalist system to support a business that was more aligned with her prejudices and irrational fears. Unlike minority groups like the LGBT community who simply want to be treated equally and with dignity, she wants ensure that her bigoted view of the world is the one adopted by everyone.

This lawsuit is so about much more than just a woman who ludicrously claims that she “feared for her safety”. This is a religious group trying to spread their intolerance and hate and codify them into our state law. Make no mistake: they know this. They know that a jury trial ruling in their favor will reverse the cause of trans* rights for decades.

But, when it comes to religious fanaticism and intolerance, reverse is the only path forward.