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By AJ Trager
MACOMB COUNTY – Residents from all over the county came out to voice their support or disapproval at the Macomb County Board of Commissioners meeting on Sept. 18. The board approved the Human Rights Policy that prevents discrimination against LGBT county employees by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of protected classes specified under county discriminatory protection law.
The new policy will protect roughly 2,600 workers from being fired for their sexual orientation and gender identity and ensures that the county cannot refuse to hire new employees on that basis.
The vote came down to a 8-5 split, mostly falling along party lines. Commissioners Don Brown, James Carabelli, Robert Mijac, Joe Sabatini and Kathy Vosburg cast the dissenting votes. Mijac, D-Sterling Heights, was the only Democrat to join the four Republican commissioners in voting against the policy.
Commissioner Fred Miller, a Democrat from Mount Clemens, spearheaded the effort to get the policy through to a vote. It took him six months, and at least four drafts, but believes that this represents an “important step forward” for the county.
“It was something that I was involved with for almost two terms,” Miller said. “I was interested since before I was elected, and it kept getting put off. Two things that added additional urgency: the passage of the ordinance in Sterling Heights and Colin, the young MSU student from Shelby who reached out to us, who emailed that the city (East Lansing) has protections, but his home county doesn’t, so ‘what gives?'”
The four-page document specifically states that it “shall not be construed to require preferential treatment of any person,” including LGBT individuals, and is meant to provide an additional layer of protections to the county’s human resources policy.
“This action ensures that employees of Macomb County will be treated based solely on their merits, instead of on who they love,” Miller said. “This is an important example of how Macomb County is a place where tolerance and inclusion is the prevailing sentiment.”
Though the city of Sterling Heights has the ability to mandate a citywide non-discrimination ordinance, the county does not have that authority. The most Miller could do was put those protections in place for the employees.
The next step in the process is to extend the protections for contractors and contract employees, which Miller says has a $630 million financial footprint.
Miller and Macomb County now look towards the state to make the necessary changes to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which will provide full discriminatory protections for all Michiganders.