Michigan Pride | Angela Demas

Michigan’s LGBTQ+ community’s struggle to ensure equal protection under the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) of 1976 has been going on almost as long as the act has been in place.

Now, the decades-long effort to pass a law explicitly stating that ELCRA’s protections include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression could finally become a reality. Doing so will guarantee all members of the LGBTQ+ community in our state will be protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education, and public accommodations.

After long involvement in this effort, I’m feeling optimistic in a way I haven’t before. For the first time, we appear to have a Legislature where a majority of its members support protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ people. We also have a landmark state Supreme Court decision issued last year that adds to our momentum. My optimism is fueled even further by the belief that members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies will do all they can to make sure that, when it comes time to cast their votes, our legislators know the full breadth and depth of support for LGBTQ+ rights in Michigan.

As always at times like this, when it feels like we are on the cusp of an important step forward, my thoughts turn to Aimee Stephens and the courage she showed in taking her fight LGBTQ+ rights all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, with the ACLU by her side.

The Court, in its Bostock decision, ruled that Aimee, a transgender woman, was subjected to illegal discrimination when she was fired after she came out to her employer at a Michigan funeral home. Being let go from a job she loved only because she chose to be her authentic self was something Aimee refused to accept. Fighting back meant a years-long, often arduous legal struggle that ultimately ended with a resounding victory. Sadly, Aimee died of kidney failure shortly before the monumental ruling in her case was issued. But her legacy lives on in a very tangible way, with her case marking a major milestone in the ongoing quest for LGBTQ rights.

Opportunity ahead

The Bostock decision was incredibly important because it held that federal law clearly prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Building on that foundation, last year the Michigan Supreme Court, in what was also a landmark ruling in Rouch World, LLC v. Department of Civil Rights, cited the precedent set in Bostock when it ruled that ELCRA’s broader protections under state law also extend to LGBTQ+ people.

Given that, why are we asking the Legislature to codify what the Court already determined?

Because doing so adds an important layer of protection. Although it doesn’t seem likely at this point, who is to say that the Michigan Supreme Court won’t have a reactionary majority in the future that attempts to overturn the Rouch World decision. With a law in place that explicitly mandates that LGBTQ+ people fall under ELCRA’s umbrella, a negative court ruling in the future can’t wipe out important progress that’s been made.

It is a layer of protection that needs to be added. The mark of its significance are the decades of work that have gone into getting it passed.

As I said, it appears that a majority of our state legislators now favor protecting LGBTQ+ rights. But few things in politics are ever certain, so it is important that we leave nothing to chance. All of us need to contact our state representative and senators so that they know how incredibly strong support throughout the state is for Senate Bill 4 and House Bill 4003. All of Michigan will be better off when, because of the advocacy from people such as you, a majority of our legislators vote “yes” to guaranteeing LGBTQ+ rights in Michigan are protected.