FERNDALE — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive directive Monday at Affirmations, Michigan’s largest LGBTQ community center, that broke new ground regarding civil rights protections for the LGBTQ community. Directive No. 2019-9 outlined that it would help instill policies to “promote public confidence in the fairness and integrity of state government” by ensuring all Michigan residents receive fair treatment in “employment, state contracting, and when accessing services from state government.” The directive strengthens protections in these four ways:
1.) Clarifying that employment protections cover all state employees, including classified and unclassified employees.
2.) Requiring all recipients of state contracts, grants and loans to extend protections to their employees.
3.) Prohibiting discrimination in state services.
4.) Extending prohibitions on discrimination to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression – which will now be consistent with the action taken by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission in May, 2018.
“It’s pretty tremendous,” said ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney Jay Kaplan. “This is pretty all-encompassing and it’s a big step forward toward LGBT equality in Michigan. I think it helps build momentum and set the stage for ultimately what we need, which is to amend our civil rights law to specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity so every aspect of Michigan life would be covered in that respect.”
Kaplan added that her “directive went a long way toward doing the things the state of Michigan is able to do even without the legislature” to ensure the fair treatment of LGBTQ people in the state and so they “have dignity in accessing governmental services.”
Whitmer’s actions earned praise from Equality Michigan as well, the only statewide advocacy organization representing Michigan’s LGBTQ community.
“Modernizing Michigan’s policies to make it clear that discrimination against LGBTQ people will not be tolerated is long overdue,” said Erin Knott, Equality Michigan Interim Executive Director. “We are proud to stand alongside Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as she takes an important step to protect Michigan’s LGBTQ community from discrimination. This is a welcome solution to a problem that our community has faced for far too long.
State Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) called the move “an encouraging step forward.”
“Michigan lags behind the rest of the country in protecting our LGBT community from discrimination,” Moss said. “While many gay and trans people in other states have held onto the hope that equality will continue to progress, Michigan residents have questioned whether our state would start progressing at all.”
In a press release, Whitmer said that not only will the directive help a marginalized group feel more accepted, but it will benefit Michigan’s greater community, too.
“If we’re going to attract the talented workforce our businesses need to create jobs and grow our economy, then we’ve got to get on the right side of history,” Whitmer said. “That’s what this executive directive is all about. By strengthening non-discrimination protections in state government employment, contracting and services, we will make Michigan a model of equal opportunity and build a more welcoming and inclusive state that works for everyone.”
“I think she sent a strong message about this administration and that they consider this a priority. They consider it a priority not only about treating people fairly in providing equal opportunities but also what kind of message does the state send if they have policies and practices that are not inclusive that exclude groups of people or marginalize populations,” he said. “When you do things like that it negatively impacts the state’s economy. … [She is not] only doing the right thing, the just thing, but is also providing more opportunities for people to want to come to Michigan and invest in the state.”
Knott said that this action is a direct motion for the legislature to follow suit in expanding Michigan’s existing civil rights act.
“It’s an example that the Michigan Legislature should follow by taking immediate, meaningful action,” Knott said. “First, they should adopt rules in the House and Senate to protect their own employees from anti-LGBT discrimination. Then, they should, at long last, expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to make it fully inclusive for all Michiganders.”