February 24, 2013 Michigan on the wrong side of Antidiscrimination Policy Issues
When LGBT activists began the movement toward Marriage Equality, some criticized their efforts as being “too far ahead of public opinion.” While there are numerous flaws in that argument when it comes to civil rights issues, it seems the table has turned for both marriage and a range of other important LGBT issues. A variety of recent reports demonstrate that the lack of antidiscrimination policies, particularly in Michigan, is not consistent with public opinion that supports them.
The State of Michigan is home to a population of LGBT residents slightly higher than the national estimation of state by state LGBT populations. A Williams Institute study published in February indicated approximately 3.5% of Americans self-identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and/or Transgender. While several organizations question the numbers based on a variety of difficulties in surveying LGBT populations and communities, Michigan falls between New York and Illinois in terms of estimated size (3.8%). A significant difference, however, falls between New York and Illinois, states with robust anti LGBT discrimination policies. Michigan does not provide discrimination protections for its LGBT residents
“In Michigan and the 28 other states without inclusive nondiscrimination laws, it is legal to discriminate against people based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation. In 34 states, including Michigan, it remains legal to discriminate against people based on their gender identity/expression.” (MDCR 1/28/13) In Michigan, as in many other states, the problem is one in which policy lags behind public opinion. Since December of 2010, public opinion polls in Michigan found strong public support for adding anti-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals, with 65% percent of Michigan voters in support of a proposal to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression (Quinlan, & Bauman, 2011). In fact, policy in SOME places in Michigan is catching up to public opinion. “As of December 2012, 19 Michigan cities (including three in 2012) and 2 townships have local ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity,” and while that indicates some localized progress, “LGBT persons and persons perceived to be LGBT have drastically different protections from one city to the next across the state.” Protection cannot depend on location. State legislators and policy officials are not paying attention to the clear voice of state residents and are instead attending to other vocal or well financed interests.
The point is that providing basic protections (rights NOT special right) to LGBT residents of the state is no longer legitimately controversial. The resistance to doing so, often based on fear of loud, biased voices during election campaigns is controversial. Included in these voices were statements collected by the MDCR that LGBT people are mentally ill, akin to Nazis, pedophiles, immoral, unfit parents, condemned by God, or even deserving of the death penalty.” What should also be controversial are the documented human and economic consequences of discrimination. The MDCR Report offers clear evidence that, “discrimination and harassment against Michigan’s LGBT citizens and their allies is wide spread.” Three main themes emerged from their report: discrimination in employment, discrimination in public services/accommodations; discrimination in education. The minority segment of Michigan residents who oppose antidiscrimination protections demonstrate the extent of anti-LGBT bias in their baseless, counterfactual, and, frankly, morally reprehensible arguments. Good policy requires good evidence and moral judgment based on human rights. Michigan policy makers need to find the will to do the right thing(s) and join with the majority of Michigan residents and communities who, for years, have understood what that is.