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Michigan becomes 22nd state to pass LGBTQ+ protections after decades of fighting

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LGBTQ+ organizations and allies are celebrating Michigan for becoming the first state in three years to pass comprehensive anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. The legislation, which now heads to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) to be signed into law, finally passed after decades of court battles and hold-ups from Republican legislators.

The bill passed in a 64-45 vote in the Democrat-led House on Wednesday. It amends the state’s 1976 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) to include LGBTQ+ people among its protected groups. The law forbids discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation within businesses, government buildings, and educational facilities on the basis of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, marital status — and now, LGBTQ+ identity.

Democrats had tried introducing various LGBTQ+ non-discrimination measures over the last 40 years, according to the bill’s gay sponsor Sen. Jeremy Moss (D). However, the attempts were repeatedly voted down by Republican-led legislatures. Last January, Democrats took control of the full legislature for the first time in nearly 40 years, finally giving them the chance to pass the protections.

In July 2022, Michigan’s Supreme Court issued a landmark 5–2 ruling that ELCRA already forbade discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as forms of discrimination based on sex and gender. This followed a 2020 Michigan Court of Claims ruling that said ELCRA didn’t ban anti-gay discrimination as well as a 2018 vote by Michigan’s Civil Rights Commission interpreting ELCRA as protecting LGBTQ+ people from religious-based discrimination.

As recently as 2015, Michigan Democrats introduced bills to add explicit protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to ELCRA. However, the bills were blocked by Republican legislators.

When the House voted to pass the historic bill on Wednesday, a crowd in the House gallery broke into applause, Bridge Michigan reported. Republican House members had tried adding amendments that would’ve carved out exceptions for religious people to continue discriminating against LGBTQ+ people. None of these amendments passed into the final bill.

Gov. Whitman has signaled that she will soon sign the bill into law. In a Wednesday tweet, she noted the observation of International Women’s Day and wrote, “I’m celebrating trans women who have continuously led the way, despite constant threats to their lives and liberty. I’m proud that we’re finally in a position to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect LGBTQ+ Michiganders. Let’s get it done!”

In another statement on the House vote, Whitmer wrote, “This is about doing the right thing, and it is just good economics. Bigotry is bad for business, and ensuring these protections will build on our reputation as a beacon of opportunity where anyone can succeed.”

The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention organization, celebrated the victory.

“By codifying non-discrimination protections into state law, Michigan brings us one step closer to creating a society where LGBTQ young people never have to fear being turned away from a business or told they cannot participate in an activity or enter a public space just because of who they are or who they love,” said Gwen Stembridge, The Trevor Project’s advocacy campaign manager. “Amid the ongoing legislative attacks on LGBTQ communities, especially trans youth, this proactive law is a beacon of hope and optimism.”

Stembridge thanked advocates, community leaders, and partners like Equality Michigan, the state’s leading LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, for years of hard work and leadership to help get the law passed.

Equality Michigan’s Executive Director Erin Knott called the law “a big step for equality [that] sends a powerful message to LGBTQ+ Michiganders that discrimination has no home in our state…. We are witnessing a sea change toward equality, bringing us closer to a future where everyone is treated equally under the law, no matter our gender, the color of our skin, how we worship, or who we love.”

She noted that Michigan will soon join 21 other states with LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination laws. The bill’s passage is a welcome bright spot in the political landscape as conservative legislators have introduced 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in 38 states this year alone.

In a statement, Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said, “We’re seeing history in the making here in Michigan. Extremist legislators tried to fearmonger people into believing a false narrative last fall, but they failed because Michiganders know better. The people of Michigan could not be fooled and they have organized over decades for this moment.”

“ELCRA will not only protect LGBTQ+ people here in Michigan,” Robinson continued, “its passage will send a message across our nation that when we organize — when we come together as a community — we will and do achieve progress…. We will continue to take this fight to each and every state that tries to deny LGBTQ+ people their rightful place in society.”

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