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Coalition expands effort to update Michigan's civil rights law to include LGBT protections

LGBT flag.
Guillaume Paumier

A coalition of business and civil rights leaders is expanding an effort to lobby Michigan's Legislature to make it illegal to discriminate against gay and transgender people.

The Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition consists of representatives from over two dozen local and national companies, including Google, Dow Chemical Company, and Zingerman's, as well as various local associations and chambers of commerce.

As stated on their website, the Coalition aims to "update Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity. "

The Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act establishes the anti-discrimination laws in the state of Michigan. This act "prohibits discriminatory practices, policies, and customs in the exercise of those rights based upon religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status".

Sexual orientation is not protected under act, as Leslee Fritz from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights explained to Lester Graham back in March 2013:

“If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered in Michigan, you can be fired because of it, in fact, you can be fired because you are perceived to be whether you are in reality or not. You can be denied a place to live or kicked out of where you do live. You can be denied a public accommodation. For example, you can be turned away from a restaurant or a hotel."

The Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition is working to change this.

Last week, the coalition unveiled its "Freedom Michigan" campaign and website as lawmakers began their lame-duck session.

Advocates are hoping that by year's end, the Republican-led Legislature will update the state's civil rights law to include protections for gay and transgender residents.

According to an online statement from the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition, continued discrimination is not only "unfair", but "is bad for business and bad for Michigan as we compete with other states for talented, well-educated and hard working employees to help drive Michigan’s economic comeback."

The Freedom Michigan campaign plans to send organizers to key districts to keep the pressure on legislators.

Republican leaders have indicated an interest in sending legislation to Gov. Rick Snyder, but some Republicans have concerns about infringing on people's religious beliefs.

- Ari Sandberg, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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