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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Signs Michigan's LGBTQ+ Protections Into Law

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Signs Michigan's LGBTQ+ Protections Into Law

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Michigan activists have been trying to add these protections to the state's civil rights law for 40 years.

Michigan is now the 22nd U.S. state to ban anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination through legislation.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, signed a bill to that effect into law Thursday. The action caps decades of effort to expand Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to cover sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. The new protections apply to employment, housing, and public accommodations.

The Elliott-Larsen Act was passed in 1976 and took effect in 1977, banning discrimination based on race, religion, sex, and other factors. The first bill to add sexual orientation to it was introduced in 1983 by Rep. Jim Dressel.

“For 40 long years, amending Elliott-Larsen has been the battle cry of our community,” gay Sen. Jeremy Moss, president pro tempore of the Michigan Senate, said at the signing ceremony, held at UrbanBeat, a bar in the state capital in Lansing, and broadcast on Facebook Live.

In recent years, the expansion of Elliott-Larsen had stalled due to Republican control of the legislature, but since both houses now have a Democratic majority and Michigan has a Democratic governor, this year it succeeded. There had been some GOPers, however, who supported the measure in the past, and a few joined Democrats in passing it this year.

“While I’m running through the tape today, talking all of you with me, this baton has been passed from generation to generation,” Moss noted. He mentioned the names of several activists who have worked for this legislation, including Jim Toy, Jeff Montgomery, Henry Messer, and Ruth Ellis, “and so many more who devoted their lives to this movement and did not live to see this day.”

Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan, also gave a shout-out to activists outside Michigan, including Stonewall veterans Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. The passage of Michigan’s pro-LGBTQ+ legislation comes while 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in states around the nation, she observed.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a lesbian who is the state’s first out elected statewide official, mentioned that in 2015, when she was an attorney in private practice and the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled for marriage equality, she received calls from newly married same-sex couples who’d been denied services or seen one member fired after marrying — discrimination the new law will prohibit.

The Michigan Supreme Court last year ruled that the Elliott-Larsen Act covered anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, but it was still important to write that into law, Nessel said.

“We’re all well aware that court decisions can change depending on the composition of the jurists,” she explained. The expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Act is the first piece of pro-LGBTQ+ legislation ever passed in Michigan, she added.

Rep. Jason Hoskins, a Black man who’s the first out gay person of color in the legislature, sponsored the House version of the bill. At the ceremony, he noted that some Twitter users were angry about the bill, but “it’s a new day in Michigan, and they can either get on board or stay mad.” With its passage, all Michiganders will be able to live “fully and authentically,” he said.

S’Niyah Tate, an activist with Stand With Trans, remarked that “the passing of this bill shows that love will always prevail, even if hate is all around us,” including in neighboring states. She encouraged other members of the community to “never stop fighting, never lose hope.”

Speaking just before the governor was former Michigan Rep. Mel Larsen, one of the namesakes of the civil rights law. The rationale behind the law always was that everyone in Michigan had the right to be protected against discrimination, and he was glad to see the expansion, he said. He urged attendees to “never forget Daisy Elliott,” the Black woman who is the other namesake of the measure. Elliott, a Democrat, had to get a Republican to back the legislation in order for the leadership to consider it, and no Republican came along until Larsen did. Elliott died in 2015.

“We’re all on this earth to move the pendulum a little bit in our lifetime, and if we do that, we’ve done something,” Larsen said.

Whitmer thanked Larsen, the voters of Michigan, the organizations behind the bill, legislative leaders, and all those onstage with her for “fighting to make this day a reality.”

“Michigan is a state where we stand up for people’s fundamental freedoms,” she continued, including “to be who you are, love who you love.” She quoted Detroit native Lizzo in saying “It’s about damn time” for legislation like this.

Whitmer said she had always been an LGBTQ+ ally, but the issue is also personal for her, as she is the mother of a gay woman. She went on to say that banning discrimination is good for the economy, signaling that Michigan is welcoming, and like others, she noted that her state’s move comes at a time when political attacks on LGBTQ+ people, especially trans people, are rampant in other states.

“I am so proud to be here, and I am excited to put our state on the right side of history,” she said, then signed the bill to great applause.

LGBTQ+ groups lauded Michigan’s move.

Human Rights Campaign president Kelley Robinson said in a statement, “This is an incredible and historic day for LGBTQ+ people, for the people of Michigan, and for all Americans across our nation. Last fall we witnessed a dangerous, anti-LGBTQ+ campaign by extremist politicians in Michigan — a campaign that ultimately failed because the voters of Michigan overwhelmingly rejected it. Today, due to the will of those voters and the turnout efforts of the Hate Won’t Win coalition, we witnessed Governor Whitmer sign LGBTQ+ protections into law. Michiganders have worked so hard and for so long for this moment, and we could not be prouder to have worked alongside them."

Robinson added that the bill is "a beacon of hope for those fighting for their rights."

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is signing a bill that will expand the Elliott-Larsen...

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