Michigan Business Leaders Launch Push To Protect LGBT Employees

CREDIT: From the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition website

A coalition of Michigan business leaders announced Thursday that it will mount a major campaign to get the state legislature to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s 1976 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA). Michigan is currently one of 29 states in which it is legal to fire someone for his or her sexual orientation — and one of 33 that allow employment discrimination based on gender identity.

The Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition will be co-chaired by AT&T Michigan president Jim Murray, ACLU of Michigan executive director Kary Moss, and Herman Miller CEO Brian Walker. The initial member list includes AT&T, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Consumers Energy, Dow Chemical Company, Google, Herman Miller, PADNOS, Steelcase, Strategic Staffing Solutions, Whirlpool Corporation. On the coalition website, co-chair Brian Walker argues that “Michigan’s continued economic growth relies on keeping and attracting talented, hard working, determined people.”

No legislation has yet been filed this year. In the past, efforts to update ELCRA have been unsuccessful. State Sen. Rebekah Warren (D) proposed bills in the Senate 2012 and in the House in 2009, though neither received a floor vote. The Michigan Democratic Party’s 2012 platform explicitly backed adding both catagories to the ELCRA law.

While the Republican governor and legislative leaders have not endorsed adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state law, they have indicated some opening to considering the idea. Gov. Rick Snyder told Michigan Live last December, that he was willing to consider supporting a bill if the legislature enacted one: “There is some openness likely there. I think the speaker has made some comments along those lines. I’m willing to have that dialogue, but I need a partner to have it with.” House Speaker Jase Bolger (R) has said that while he wants to “respect gay people,” he is concerned about trampling on the rights of religious people who want to discriminate. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R) also said last year that he was “very careful about talking about” updating the law, but that he does not “think that discrimination against anybody is the right thing.”

While the U.S. Senate voted 64 to 32 last November to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide nationwide protections for LGBT employees, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has adamantly refused to bring it up in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Recent polling found that 75 percent of Michigan residents support adding sexual orientation to the state law, including most of Republicans and small business owners. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights, which supports the proposed change, released a report last year, finding that the absence of LGBT protections in the state hurt both Michigan’s communities and its economy.

Some Michigan localities have already enacted non-discrimination ordinances.