LANSING – The decades long fight to amend Michigan’s civil rights act – The Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act – to include protections for the LGBT community may hinge on the inclusion of gender identity and expression. Both Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) and Jim Murray, president of AT&T Michigan, as well co-chair of the Competitive Workforce Coalition, have noted that federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rulings have extended employment protections to the transgender community.
For Bolger, that means he is not “inclined to add gender identity specifically to Elliott-Larsen.”
“You can make a case that the definitions used for sexual orientation, gender identity and the EEOC rulings would cover gender identity and expression under sex discrimination in Elliott-Larsen,” says Murray.
But relying on the federal EEOC process can take years and would leave protections up to the whims of the courts say advocates for including gender identity in the legislation.
“It’s much better to have the question settled with a law rather than case by case and court by court,” says Kary Moss, executive director of ACLU Michigan. “It’s really not any answer.”
The EEOC ruling would only cover employment related complaints, Moss notes. Discrimination in public accommodations or housing would remain unprotected if Elliott-Larsen is amended without including gender identity and expression.
Chai Feldblum, the only out LGBT EEOC Commissioner, told Buzzfeed news that the EEOC ruling had weaknesses worth acknowledging.
She noted the determination by the EEOC is advisory only, and courts are not obligated to follow it. However she said the determination by the Commission did have “real, practical effects.” She noted a federal law would certainly have a greater impact.