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Rep. Frank Foster (R-Petoskey) is among a group of Republican legislators open to the idea of including protections for LGBT people in the state’s non-discrimination law, known as Elliott Larsen. Currently people in Michigan can be fired or denied housing because they are gay or perceived to be gay. Currently the law does protect people from discrimination based on age, race, religion, national origin, sex, weight, height, familial or marital status. A growing number of Republicans have come out in favor of equal rights for LGBT citizens and Republican legislators are taking notice.
In May, BTL reported https://www.pridesource.com/article.html?article=60351 on the growing number of LGBT Republicans and conservatives who support equality for the LGBT community. Polling showed, among other things, that 59.5 percent of Republicans said it should be illegal to fire someone or deny someone housing because they are gay. LGBT Republican groups have been growing. And when National Republican Committeeman from Michigan Dave Agema, posted anti-gay propaganda on his Facebook page, conservatives spoke out against him.
On June 13, State House Speaker Jase Bolger told WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record” that, “We ought to respect somebody if they’re gay. We shouldn’t discriminate against people. On the same point, we ought to respect people who have deeply held religious beliefs, and we shouldn’t discriminate against them. And we shouldn’t force them to violate their deeply held religious belief.” The statement raised eyebrows among some Republicans, but Foster is taking the sentiment even further.
Foster released the following statement to the media in response to questions about the possibility of amending Elliott Larson Civil Rights Act. “There’s been a lot of talk lately about LGBT legislation, but hate and discrimination aren’t just gay or lesbian issues; they are human rights issues. What I’ve heard from people is that probably nine out of 10 Michiganders believe this is already protected, when in fact it’s not under Michigan law. The response to adding a protection like this has been overwhelmingly positive so far, so we are taking a close look at how best to proceed. We’re not at the point where we’re ready to talk specific legislation or timelines, but it’s important to keep having these conversations with people back home and among our colleagues.”
No amendment has been introduced this legislative cycle, but in the past it has been championed by Democrats and ignored by those across the aisle. Foster believes it is an idea whose time has come.
He spoke with BTL this week:
What kind of reaction have you gotten from the public about coming out in support of amending Elliott Larsen?
I think the reaction has been very positive. There has actually been a bit of surprise that this isn’t something that’s already protected here in Michigan, so there’s been a bit of an educational process involved in the early discussions on this issue. Even before we looked at any public polling, I felt like the support for an initiative like this was strong, and the numbers I’ve seen since then only seem to confirm that.
Why should Republicans support equality and protections for LGBT people?
Regardless of your personal or religious beliefs on issues such as gay marriage, it’s difficult to look at issues such as employment and housing as anything less than a basic civil rights issue. It’s time for us as a national community to raise the standard when we’re discussing equality and opportunity in this country, and this can be the obvious next step.
How did you become interested in this topic?
I ran for office because I thought we could do a better job as a state at supporting a healthy economy and getting people back to work and making a decent wage. When we’re talking about basic protections, however, I think it’s something that is easy to be interested in and certainly worth talking about.
Have you been working with the ACLU, Equality Michigan or other groups on this, and if so how?
I’ve had the opportunity to have some initial conversations with a few different groups, and I look forward to continuing the positive working relationship we’ve started together. This is truly going to be a collaborative and bi-partisan effort.
Have you gotten any flak from other Republicans on this, and if so what is your response?
Any issue that has the potential to touch on religious beliefs or personal values is going to raise some red flags. The goal is to educate people so they understand what we’re looking to accomplish, and then hope they re-evaluate their concern. Education and time are allies on this issue, and I think it’s possible we could see a lot of people get to ‘yes’ at the end of the day that maybe you wouldn’t have expected to when this started.
Do you have any personal connection with anyone in the LGBT community, such as someone you know being gay, or speaking with gay constituents?
Regardless of the community you live in, hate is going to exist, and even if it doesn’t affect you directly, it’s there and it’s hurting somebody. That’s a point worth making – there is probably someone every person in this state cares for that is affected by this issue, and it needs to be looked at from that perspective.
What is your response to those who say that recognizing the rights of LGBT people violates the religious rights of some?
I appreciate and respect the opinion of everyone involved in this issue, and I understand that there is going to be a diverse range of opinions. I simply don’t believe that basic civil rights should ever be ignored for any reason.
Do you plan on introducing or being part of introducing legislation to amend Elliott Larsen?
I’m certainly interested in being a part of the process. This is an important issue that affects people all across our state, so I look forward to having a role in whatever way I can help make a positive impact.
Anything else you think BTL readers should know?
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about this.