State Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) says it's time for Michigan to step up and provide statewide protections to its LGBTQ citizens and encourages Republicans to join the effort to amend ELCRA. BTL Photo: Kate Opalewski

Democratic Legislators Say 'We Will Not Tolerate Discrimination in Michigan'

State Reps. Introduce Bill to Update Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to Protect LGBTQ Citizens

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

During a Tuesday morning press conference at the Michigan State Capitol Building in Lansing, State Reps. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) and Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) announced legislation to update and expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity. This would protect Michigan's LGBTQ community from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

"It's time for us to stop denying LGBTQ citizens housing, refuse them service or fire them from a job simply based on who they are or who they love," said Warren, who has sponsored or co-sponsored this effort for the sixth legislative session in a row.

In Michigan, legislation to amend ELCRA has been introduced in nearly every session since 1983 in an effort to make Michigan a fully-inclusive state. There have been significant milestones at the federal level in the fight to ensure equality for LGBTQ citizens, including the Supreme Court's landmark decision in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015.

"Yet Michigan continues to miss the mark," said Warren. "We have the pivotal opportunity to move the state forward and join 19 other states that have already acted to update their civil rights laws to include all people."

Warren stressed that we are risking the future of Michigan's economic well-being also.

"As the state continues to engage in global battles for talent, our business leaders have told us time and again that they look for states that have open and inclusive policies already in place. Not only because they create a stronger and more diverse talent pool, but because they provide a higher quality of life for employees and their families."

When asked if something will change in their legislative approach this time around, Warren said, "Every year we get more folks involved and more people paying attention. There are more Michigan-based businesses supporting this now than ever before and polling data shows increasingly that Michigan citizens are supportive of full inclusion."

Joining the fight are State Reps. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), Tim Sneller (D-Burton), among others.

"As a veteran staff member, and now a representative, I have been proud over the years to see the many ways Michigan has been at the forefront of social progress," said Sneller. "An extension of these protections for our LGBT friends is a small but critical way to keep that tradition alive."

Guest speakers included Ingham County Commissioner Ryan Sebolt and Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan, who points to the results of the 2015 Transgender Survey to support the need for this law in the state of Michigan.

Ypsilanti Mayor Amanda Edmonds spoke to her own political journey as a gay elected official.

"I understand more and more why this part of my identity is relevant and is something I need to bring front and center, even if it does not command a majority of my mayoring responsibilities," she said.

In her own welcoming community, Edmonds said "it's easy to forget that we live in a state where basic human rights are denied."

With no adequate state protection, Edmonds said 42 communities have implemented LGBTQ protections at the local level in the form of non-discrimination ordinances.

"And some, like Ypislanti's, have been around for decades," she said. "These communities like mine believe that in your everyday life, your sexuality or gender identity should not be a barrier to finding or keeping a job, a place to live or being served in a restaurant."

Hoadley reiterates that now is the time to act when in 2017, more than 200 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced across the country, including right here in Michigan.

"June 1 marks Pride month," he said, adding that more and more citizens will be asking this question of their elected officials.

"If you don't support full equality for LGBT folks, and really equal rights across the board, that could be a disqualifier for some of our largest statewide offices and elected officials in the state legislature."

While no Republican has signed on to this legislation yet, Hoadley said the bill will start circulating today and he "welcomes any Republican wanting to stand on this. We've had a history of folks wanting to work across the aisle on many issues. This should be one of them because LGBTQ folks come from all parties. People from all parties known LGBTQ folks in their families. So they should be doing it because it's the right thing for Michigan. They should be doing it because someone they know and love is LGBTQ."

Moss is confident that "if this were put up to a vote, it would pass in the House." Members of the community, he said, can help support this effort by contacting their legislators. "The more urging we do, especially in Republican districts, the better of we'll be."


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