The Michigan Civil Rights Commission yesterday voted to begin investigating claims of housing, employment, and public accommodations discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The civil rights law in Michigan currently does not include the terms sexual orientation and gender identity. The Civil Rights Commission decided that sex discrimination includes discrimination against LGBTQ people.
“Someone who feels their rights are being abridged on account of being transgender or being gay, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, have a place they can go to file a complaint and have their grievances heard and investigated,” Agustin Arbulu, the director of the Department of Civil Rights, said.
Equality Michigan filed a request for an interpretative statement last year, since several recent federal court decisions have found that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination.
The decision passed with a 5-0 vote, with one abstaining. Ira Combs – a notorious anti-LGBTQ activist appointed to the Civil Rights Commission by Governor Rick Snyder (R) – abstained from the decision.
Conservatives denounced the commission, calling the decision an “arrogant abuse of power.”
“This commission is unaccountable to the people,” said David Kallman, whose firm filed arguments with the commission on behalf of Republican lawmakers. “They are not elected. They have by fiat changed Michigan law because they somehow think they know better.”
LGBTQ activists hailed the decision.
“While we will continue to work tirelessly to see that the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act is explicitly amended to protect LGBT Michiganders, the Commission’s action today has the practical effect of providing LGBT victims of discrimination with an opportunity to have their cases heard and to seek redress for the anti-LGBT discrimination that is all too common in our state,” said Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan.
White said that since commission members change, it’s still important to get the legislature to explicitly ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“This is, at the end of the day, an interpretation of the law, and to have it explicitly stated that in Michigan we will not discrimination against gay and trans people – that is still important.”
“It just important for gay and trans Michiganders to have the same access to a process for justice that everybody else in our state has, and yesterday we didn’t’ have that,” said Jay Kaplan of the Michigan ACLU.