Schuette Endorsement in Grand Rapids Causes Backlash

Kate Opalewski
By | 2018-10-01T10:58:54-05:00 September 20th, 2018|Michigan, News|

LGBTQ-Friendly Businesses Protest the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce

Updated Monday, Oct. 1: 

The Detroit News reported that Founders Brewing Co. is not leaving the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce over their endorsement of Bill Schuette. A social media post on Wednesday, Sept. 19 announcing Founder’s withdrawal from the chamber was made by an employee without the authorization of company officials, according to a statement released through a public relations firm. Read the full story here.

Updated Tuesday, Sept. 25: 

During the bi-annual West Michigan Policy Forum in downtown Grand Rapids on Monday, Sept. 24, Schuette reportedly said his views about offering protections from discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation had been “misinterpreted.” If elected governor, Schuette said he would work with a variety of stakeholders to close legal loopholes that allow for discrimination, MiBiz reports.
Schuette reportedly told WOOD TV 8 political reporter Rick Albin in a 35-minute live discussion at the event that “whether it’s race, color, creed, sexual orientation, ethnicity or religion, there’s no place for discrimination in Michigan.”
Schuette also said he would “look at (Elliott-Larsen), absolutely. And we’ll look at it so there’s no discrimination.”
But Democratic legal counsel for the Michigan House of Representatives, Nathan Triplett, points out that Schuette has “spent an inordinate amount of time defending discrimination against LGBTQ Michiganders.”
Triplett reminded members of the community via Twitter of Schuette’s decades-long anti-LGBTQ record.
He referred to Schuette defending Michigan’s discriminatory Public Employee Domestic Partner Benefit Restriction Act, which was struck down as unconstitutional. Schuette defended Michigan’s discriminatory constitutional ban on marriage equality. He defended legislation authorizing taxpayer-funded child placement agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples. Schuette also joined a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the Obama administration’s guidance on the rights of transgender students at school.
“The list goes on and on. Schuette has been a decades-long defender of anti-LGBTQ discrimination. He has no interest whatsoever in seeing Elliott-Larsen amended to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s a cynical political ploy. Period,” said Triplett.
Equality Michigan’s board chair, Jim Murray, weighed in.
“I’ve had personal conversations about this issue with Bill Schuette when the legislature last tried to tackle Elliott-Larsen. Bill could have been very helpful. He wasn’t. He was no where to be found. Quiet as a church mouse. Bill can’t have it both ways. He can’t be for Elliott Larsen changes AND have a religious loophole you could drive a truck through. Any discrimination against our community is unacceptable. Full stop.”

Original story published Thursday, Sept. 20:

There is growing backlash against the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce over their endorsement of Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette on Monday, Sept. 17 through its Friends of West Michigan Business Political Action Committee.
More than 50 area business professionals have signed a letter urging the Chamber to rescind its endorsement of Schuette.
The Chamber – which endorsed Lt. Gov. Brian Calley in his failed gubernatorial primary bid – has deleted its initial Facebook post announcing the endorsement of Schuette. The post generated more than 150 comments, the vast majority of which were critical of the Schuette endorsement, MiBiz reports.
The Chamber’s president and CEO, Rick Baker, issued a Facebook statement on Wednesday, Sept. 19 explaining the endorsement of Schuette, stating “he aligns most closely with our business-friendly policies.”

A Monday, Sept. 17 post on Bill Schuette’s Facebook page featuring a quote from Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Baker.

Baker said his organization understands their endorsement decisions “do not take place in a vacuum and we are open to dialogue to understand the impact of our decisions.” He said they remain “committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion” and will continue to advocate to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Schuette issued a statement late Wednesday that reportedly said he is proud to have the Chamber’s endorsement.
“Michigan must be a place where we grow our recovering economy and we ensure there is no room for discrimination of any kind, because all people must be treated with dignity, grace and respect,” he said. And then he added, “We will work together to protect everyone, including employment protections and religious liberties.”
The Grand Rapids Pride Center expressed “deep disappointment” on their website and is encouraging other businesses to join in protest. They will suspend any future partnerships with the Chamber and any of its programs, including OutPro, a program for LGBTQ professionals.
The organization cited a formal opinion Schuette issued in July asserting that under the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act LGBTQ Michiganders are not protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission ignored that opinion and reiterated their support for the interpretive statement they issued in May, interpreting the word “sex” in the ELCRA to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
The GRPC welcomed the Chamber to connect with them for training and education surrounding their decision “as we work to move our region, and state, forward in empowering our LGBTQ community.”
Some of the other businesses affiliated with the Chamber that have ended their support include Founders Brewing Co., The Winchester, Donkey Tacqueria, the Apartment Lounge, Creston Brewery, Urban Core Collective, and 8ThirtyFour Integrated Communications.
Founders Brewing Co. tweeted on Wednesday, Sept. 19, “We stand with our LGBTQ community and ask the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce reverse their decision. We will be terminating our membership in the meantime and encourage our fellow local businesses to consider doing the same.”

Apartment Lounge owner Bob Johnson expressed disappointment in a Facebook letter written to the Chamber on Wednesday, Sept. 19. He said this decision “goes against everything” that the business stands for in creating a safe space. Later, the establishment tweeted, “We have severed ties with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.”

Equality Michigan‘s board chair, Jim Murray, responded on Thursday, Sept. 20 to the Chamber’s endorsement fallout.
“We are heartened to see businesses and business leaders standing with us and with LGBT equality. It is a testament to the business community that they prioritize diversity and inclusion when choosing who they will support, and we appreciate their commitment to these ideals.”
As the former president of AT&T Michigan and a Republican, Murray said, “I know that equality does not have to be at odds with good business or political affiliation. It is a choice. Regardless of what he says now, Bill Schuette has never stood with our community, and his record shows that. He chose to be on the wrong side of history, and that is where he’ll stay.”
Kevin Heard, founding board member of the Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce, said, “You cannot cite business-friendly policies being the reason why you ignore human rights. We must be aware that during the current political climate that we are better united than divided and someone who has an anti-human rights policy should not be governor of our state.”
Heard welcomed all of those who have canceled their membership with the Chamber in Grand Rapids to join them.
“Especially those who are LGBT and allied professionals, including LGBT business owners,” he said. “When businesses are open and inclusive they are more sustainable and more successful. An effective business cannot reach its full potential if their talent isn’t allowed to bring their whole selves to work or are afraid to be fired because of who they love.”

Click here for a list of Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce members.

About the Author:

Kate Opalewski
Kate Opalewski is BTL's features editor and has been since 2015. She has covered a variety of topics ranging from art, politics and community outreach. Recently, she was honored by the Detroit Police Department LGBT Advisory Board for her work for the local LGBTQIA community.