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Michigan Activists Prep Ballot Initiative for LGBTQ Protections

Michigan state capital

Advocates are trying to ban bias in the state but are currently stymied by a GOP legislature.

Preparing an end-run around Michigan's Republican-controlled legislature, activists are getting ready to gather signatures for a ballot initiative that could codify employment and housing protections for LGBTQ residents.

To succeed, activists -- working with support from corporations like Apple and Verizon -- need at least 340,027 signatures before May 27. If the signatures are gathered, the legislature will have the option of adding sexual orientation and gender identity/expression to its list of protected characteristics in antidiscrimination law. Should the legislature fail to act -- quite possible, considering the state Senate majority leader has voiced opposition -- voters would decide on the matter in the November 2020 election.

"LGBTQ people deserve to feel safe and protected under the law -- in Michigan and in every state," Amritha Venkataraman, Michigan state director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. "This is why HRC has long supported efforts in the legislature to update the state's non-discrimination laws to include LGBTQ Michiganders, so that all of our friends, family members and neighbors can live and work in a state that supports us and respects our existence."

Current Michigan law prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status. In 2018, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission interpreted the protections for "sex" as inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity. Michigan's attorney general at the time, Republican Bill Schuette, undermined that interpretation, calling it unconstitutional. Other Republicans have voiced support for updating the protections to include LGBTQ people, though. And Democrat Dana Nessel, who succeeded Schuette last year and happens to be a lesbian, took a different stance than he did, allowing for investigation of complaints of anti-LGBTQ bias. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights has investigated 44 such cases, with 14 cases resolved.

Only 20 states currently ban discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

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