Pastors and Christian leaders gathered on the steps of the state Capitol Wednesday morning to demand the state legislature refuse to amend Michigan’s civil rights act to include the LGBT community.
“The homosexual movement is an anti-freedom movement,” declared Stacy Swimp, a right-wing advocate and minister in Flint and Jackson. Swimp is also a convicted felon. He spent time in Michigan’s prison system after being convicted in 1994 of assault with intent to murder.
Swimp spoke to about 150 people gathered on the steps of the Capitol building, including three sitting GOP lawmakers. The group formed in response to public conversations about amending Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity and or expression as protected classes in the law.
Pastor Tim Berlin of Warren told the crowd that inclusion of the LGBT community in the civil rights act was “a dangerous slippery slope to an unknown destination.”
Bridgeport minister R.B. Ouellette said the group did not seek “to deny anyone their rights,” adding, “Our rights are being threatened.”
Ouellette pointed to a legal case in Houston, Texas.
There, ministers involved in a coalition to repeal the city’s non-discrimination act have sued the city over their failed ballot initiative. The coalition failed to garner enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. The group is suing because a city official gave preliminary approval of the signatures but eventually found there were not enough valid signatures to approve the ballot measure. As part of the defense litigation, the city has subpoenaed a bevy of documents from ministers involved, including sermons and emails. The Houston Chronicle reports city officials have chastised the outside law firm for seeking sermons, with Mayor Annise Parker saying it went too far.
Ouellette failed to mention the ongoing litigation, or the fact it was initiated by members of the failed ballot initiative. But that didn’t stop him from saying sermons had never been taken by the government, except in “Nazi Germany” and “Communist Russia.”
Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-Jackson) told Between The Lines that he has not seen any evidence that LGBT people have been discriminated against in housing or employment. Asked how many cases he would require to support adding the LGBT community to the civil rights act, he said he wouldn’t do it.
“I would defend their rights,” he said. He asserted that a person discriminated against for their sexual orientation or gender identity had remedy in the courts already.
Shirkey was not alone in saying he was unaware of a single case of anti-gay or anti-transgender discrimination in Michigan. Many of the pastors stated the same thing from the podium. But a June 2013 report from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights found the opposite.
“We do not believe that this report mandates particular conclusions must be drawn on the merits of particular legislation; instead we assert that the report conclusively establishes that the economic implications of LGBT inclusion/exclusion are real, they are substantial, they are predictable and they must be a part of any informed policy discussion,” wrote Daniel Krichbaum, executive director of MDCR, in his letter introducing the report to Commissioners.
And just last month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against Detroit-based R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. for discriminating against a transgender employee in violation of federal law.
“Harris is a funeral home operator with locations in Detroit, Livonia and Garden City. Amiee Stephens had been employed by Harris as a Funeral Director/Embalmer since October 2007 and had always adequately performed the duties of that position,” the federal agency explained in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “In 2013, she gave Harris a letter explaining she was undergoing a gender transition from male to female, and would soon start to present (e.g., dress) in appropriate business attire at work, consistent with her gender identity as a woman. Two weeks later, Harris’s owner fired Stephens, telling her that what she was ‘proposing to do’ was unacceptable.”
And right in Shirkey’s own backyard, Julie Nemecek was terminated from her position at Spring Arbor University when she transitioned. She sued the university in federal court, but settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
The pastors’ message was not accepted by all faith leaders in the state. Rev. D. Alexander Bullock, senior pastor at Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church in Highland Park, said he supports amending the state law.
“It’s hard to fathom a world where discrimination was once justified by religion and that’s the argument being used to justify bigotry today,” he said in a press statement. “My faith and my beliefs tell me to support LGBT protections that align with my values to prevent discrimination, show compassion and allow all to live without judgment.”
Swimp said if the amendment is passed, Christians will disobey the law.
“We must be ready to go to jail if we resist,” he told those gathered.
“The right side of history is on the side of equality and that’s where Michigan will ultimately be,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “Through our own Department of Civil Rights, we know discrimination against the LGBT community not only exists, but that it’s pervasive. We also know that discrimination hurts our state and amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act would make us more economically competitive. Equality is not only a moral issue, it’s an economic issue. Michigan needs to become a welcoming state.”