A person can be fired, denied housing, and refused health care for being gay or transgender in Michigan. That could change this year, as Democratic lawmakers are seeking to extend statewide non-discrimination protections to LGBTQ residents.
The Democrats’ anti-discrimination bill would update the state’s 1976 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which outlines Michigan’s prohibition against certain kinds of discrimination.
HB 4538, introduced in late April by state Rep. Jon Hoadley (D), would add “sexual orientation, gender identity or expression” to the list of protected classes under state law. Religion, race, national origin, weight, and marital status are among the classes already protected under the law. Ability, or disability, is not listed as a protected class.
Similar bills gained traction during last year’s legislative session before being voted down in a house committee. The bills differed in their approach to protections for transgender residents, with one proposal including language on “gender identity and expression” and the other adding only “sexual orientation” to the list of protected categories. The inclusion of transgender people was controversial for some Republican legislators, who said they might otherwise support the legislation.
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Adding protections for gender identity and sexual orientation gained renewed attention this year when Republican Gov. Rick Snyder mentioned the Elliott-Larsen Act in his State of the State address, calling for the legislature to take up the issue again.
And to drum up support for this year’s iteration, state Democrats launched an online petition asking people to sign on as “citizen co-sponsors” of the legislation.
“No one in Michigan should have to fear losing their job or losing their home because of who they love or who they are. It’s just a matter of fairness—plain and simple,” the petition reads. “We urge you to join us in supporting this important legislation and request a hearing as soon as possible.”
More than 4,300 people have signed the petition.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers are moving forward with a Religious Freedom Restoration Act similar to the one that gained national attention in Indiana. The bill would allow businesses and people to discriminate against LGBTQ people based on religious objections.
During a hearing on the RFRA, a lesbian couple testified about being denied health-care services for their young child because of their sexual orientation.
“We were shocked, heartbroken, and humiliated,” said one of the women. “We still couldn’t shake the feeling with what had happened, and then were were totally blindsided when we found out that this is completely legal in the state of Michigan.”
Snyder has said he might not veto the “religious freedom” bill if LGBTQ protections are added to the Elliott-Larsen Act.