Michigan Democrats seek to codify LGBTQ civil-rights protections
- Michigan Democrats want to expand civil rights to offer more protection for LGBTQ communities
- The bill would codify a state Supreme Court ruling to protect LGBTQ people against sex-based discrimination
- At least 21 states and Washington, D.C., have non-discrimination policies in place for transgender Americans
LANSING — Katie Kilpatrick says she remembers perking up her ears when she was getting ready for her daughter’s fifth-grade camp.
“I am transgender,” Kilpatrick’s daughter had just told a male classmate. “I feel like a girl on the inside, but I have parts like a boy on the outside.”
“How are you going to have kids?” the classmate asked.
“I’m just going to adopt,” the daughter responded.
“These kids, they get it,” Katie Kilpatrick, a Birmingham social worker and mother of three, told a panel of lawmakers during a Thursday hearing. “They have no problems with my daughter at school. She goes every day and is supported and is just like one of the other kids.”
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Kilpatrick, along with a roomful of LGBTQ activists at the hearing, wants state lawmakers to advance a bill that would expressly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The proposal has gained bipartisan support from lawmakers and a coalition of business groups, including the Business Leaders for Michigan and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
While most speakers Thursday supported the legislation, two opponents raised concerns changing the law could lead to sexual assaults in bathrooms. There is no proof to the claim; in fact, a Harvard University study found that limiting bathroom access of transgender youths places them at a greater risk of assault.
Other opponents have said they feared the legislation could infringe upon religious beliefs. Former House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, didn't allow the bill to advance because he felt discrimination was fairly rare and could prompt “reverse discrimination.”
The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Moss, a Southfield Democrat and the state’s first openly gay senator. It would expand the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Polls in recent years show well over 60 percent of Americans support nondiscrimination policies that protect against sexual orientation-based discrimination, according to Gallup News. Polls show similar support for policies to protect transgender people from discrimination, according to a September survey from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
A 2021 study by the University of California in Los Angeles found 46 percent of surveyed LGBTQ workers reported that they experienced unfair treatment in their workplace and 34 percent left their job because of that.
As of September, at least 21 states and Washington, D.C., had enacted non-discrimination policies to protect transgender rights, the Pew analysis shows.
Federally, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited.
In Michigan, however, similar bills have stalled in the Legislature for decades, Moss said Thursday. The bill likely will become law now that Democrats have a majority in both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in 40 years.
The protections in the bill are already in place, but Moss said it’s still important to codify them in law.
In July, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that denial of goods, services and accommodations based on sexual orientation is sex-based discrimination and violates the civil rights act. And in 2018, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission declared it has authority to review complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Jay Kaplan, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said the bill would help “cement” the court ruling, so LGBTQ rights would not be easily challenged.
“With a law in place that explicitly mandates that LGBTQ people are to be treated with dignity and fairness … a negative court ruling in the future cannot wipe out important progress that has been made,” he said.
The bill will receive another hearing in the Senate next week with business communities testifying, Moss said.
Jonathan Oosting contributed reporting.
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