Arts & Entertainment
Department of Civil Rights seeks stories as Elliot-Larsen considered
By Crystal A. Proxmire
Originally printed 5/17/2012 (Issue 2020 - Between The Lines News)
The push to amend the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act is on, and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights needs your help gathering information on instances of discrimination in the state.
On April 17, Senator Rebekah Warren introduced Senate Bill 1063 which would add "Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression" to the list of groups that are protected against discrimination by law. Michigan's Civil Rights law currently prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status. Senate Bill 1063 hopes to add sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to this law.
Currently, 21 states and Washington DC prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and 16 states and Washington DC prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. In Michigan there are local ordinances that protect these groups in some manner in Ann Arbor, Birmingham, Dearborn Heights, Detroit, Douglas, East Lansing, Ferndale, Flint, Grand Ledge, Grand Rapids, Huntington Woods, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Muskegon, Saginaw, Traverse City and Ypsilanti.
The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is gathering information on the proposed amendment, and they are asking that people share their opinions and experiences around LGBT discrimination. "Do you think protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people should be added to the ELCRA? Have you experienced discrimination in Michigan because of your sexual orientation or gender identity? Please consider sharing your thoughts on the proposed amendments to this law. We are interested in hearing from individuals in favor of and opposed to such changes to the law.
Please email, anonymously if you prefer, email@example.com to share your opinion," said a recent request for information.
Across the state, local officials have joined together through Unity Michigan to show support for the bill. Their LEAD (Local Electeds Against Discrimination) statement has 70 signatures from elected officials at many levels of government. "All hardworking people in our state, including those who are gay or transgender, should have the chance to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families. No one should have to live in fear that they could be legally fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance - especially in this uncertain economic climate," the statement said. It went on to say "Diversity helps to keep our cities strong, and our gay and transgender residents are a part of that diversity.
"We know that young, bright, creative-minded professionals are more likely to choose places that foster diversity and inclusion. They are just the kind of workers, thinkers, and doers that Michigan needs to help revitalize our economy."
The Mayor of Grand Rapids, George Heartwell, was among those who took a stand. "Especially in these days when bigotry and homophobia seems to be settling back in to plague communities, Grand Rapids' ordinance, adopted 17 years ago, stands as a hallmark of open-mindedness and welcome. The rich arts and culture of our city, the robust design and research industry and the expansive higher education presence benefit from the inclusiveness signaled by our ordinance.
"Our ordinance has no enforcement teeth without state statute. While it represents an important symbol, its effectiveness is otherwise minimized until Elliot-Larson is amended.
"We had a tragic case in our metro area where a teacher was fired by a suburban district simply because he was gay. The LGBT community, together with allies in the straight community, came together to publicly support him. Unfortunately, he died of a heart ailment before the School Board could address the issue," Heartwell said.
It isn't just leaders of affirming communities that are getting involved. Elected officials from School Boards and Library Boards have signed on too. Jennifer Suidan sits on the Library Board in White Lake. She's not gay or transgender and her community does not have inclusive protections. "I signed onto this letter because I believe firmly that it is beyond time for Michigan to protect all of our residents. This shouldn't be a task handled municipality to municipality. Every Michigan resident deserves the same protections under the law."
Surprisingly, Suidan underestimates the strength of her voice in this issue. "I think that it is important to realize that there are plenty of signers to this letter that are openly LGBT elected officials. Their voice hasn't been made nearly as prominent as I think would be ideal, considering that they are in the best position to speak for their community. I am always happy to lend my name, my voice and answer any questions that are sent to me about this topic but I do want to insure that those that this amendment directly impacts and that this is even more personal for get their voice represented."
While LGBT elected officials are important in the fight and serve as good role models for the community, it's going to take allies standing up to really create change. Suidan signed for the same reason that more and more allies are stepping forward in the fight for equality, and should be noted for their efforts.
"I don't view my particular community as entirely welcoming," she said. "My decision to sign this letter, as an ally, as a young woman and as a local elected official, was in hopes that maybe it does make my community even slightly more welcoming. I want to make it so people know that they aren't alone, no matter where you live."
The Unity Michigan Coalition works to ensure that all Michiganders are treated fairly in the workplace by advancing nondiscrimination policies.
The Unity Michigan Coalition includes the ACLU of Michigan, Affirmations, Equality Michigan, KICK, the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, and the Ruth Ellis Center. LGBT people and allies are welcome to get involved. Check out http://dontchangeyourself.com.
SB 1063 was referred to the Committee of Government Operations on April 17, 2012. To follow the legislative progress, go to http://www.legislature.mi.gov/%28S%28dwx4dr55rk3obku3cyd4ibif%29%29/mileg.aspx?page=GetObject&objectname=2012-SB-1063.
To send your opinion or experience to the Michigan Civil Rights Department, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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