Huge Step Forward: Michigan Civil Rights Commission Advances LGBTQ Nondiscrimination

By Shane Stahl • May 21, 2018 • 4:00 pm

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission has voted 5-0-1 to take its first steps to examine anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the state after being petitioned by the state’s leading LGBTQ group, Equality Michigan, in addition to 37 other organizations from across the state.

Commissioner Alma Wheeler-Smith presented a motion to adopt as Interpretive Statement 2018-1 that “discrimination because of…sex” includes discrimination because of gender identity and discrimination because of sexual orientation. The organizations that petitioned the commission had previously argued that the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Right Act’s existing prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.

Equality Michigan Executive Director Stephanie White offered in a statement:

“Equality Michigan commends the Commission for their pro-equality leadership. 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.”

Michigan is currently one of 32 states that do not ensure comprehensive statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in housing, employment, or public accommodations.

The development is the latest in a growing trend from lawmakers, policymakers, and courts to recognize that discrimination based on “sex” should encompass discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2015 New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo determined that the state’s longstanding protections from discrimination based on sex also cover discrimination based on gender identity. Multiple federal appellate courts have ruled that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employment discrimination based on sex equates to discrimination based on sexual orientation (2nd Circuit, 7th Circuit) and gender identity (6th Circuit, 11th Circuit);  federal judges in many other states have ruled the same way. After all, targeting someone because they love a person of the same sex or because they transitioned genders is inherently discriminating against them because of their sex.

Perhaps most notably, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has interpreted for many years now that existing federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on sex also cover discrimination based on LGBTQ identity. The ‘Macy’ decision from 2011 and the ‘Baldwin’ decision from 2015 made this clear and have been cited by many courts.

Freedom For All Americans congratulates our friends at Equality Michigan for helping facilitate this important step through tireless lobbying and coalition building. To learn more, visit Equality Michigan’s website here.

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