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equality insight

Research, information and critical insight for the LGBT equality movement

Michael Tew

Mounting evidence indicates that Michigan remains one of the most discriminatory states regarding LGBT people and communities where public policy is concerned. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights reported the results of a major study (published 1/28/13) of the impacts of Michigan public policy finding rampant discrimination in employment and public services. The MDCR report offers clear evidence that the lack of antidiscrimination policy in Michigan hurts LGBT people, communities, and the overall economy of the state. Three stories demonstrate those impacts in vivid terms.

As reported by Michigan Public Radio, “Brook Johnson was a teacher/advisor to the Diversity Club. In 2009 the club decided to put up a display in honor of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender History month. It featured photos of celebrities who had come out as gay or lesbian. It caused controversy and the school board ordered it removed. The ACLU challenged the decision. The Corunna Board of Education changed its position and allowed the display. A federal lawsuit filed on her behalf alleges the administration then turned on Johnson, ostracizing her and then forcing her out. There is no employment discrimination protection for LGBT people in Michigan.

On February 7th, the Washington Bladed reported on a University of Michigan study indicating that Michigan health officials are using the state’s HIV surveillance technologies (under a “health threat” law) to employ the state’s names-reporting database for law enforcement. The study asserts, “The evidence is mounting that these laws are bad public policy and certainly bad public health policy, yet Michigan health officials are helping to enforce them.” Again, no protection exists under these circumstances. In Michigan, being HIV positive can bring criminal consequences.

Kerry Hogan (Lawsonry, 3/10/13) reported on action in the Michigan Senate that could further ensconce discrimination into State policy. Senate Bill 975 would “protect” health care professionals who do not wish to provide services based on “religious beliefs, moral convictions, or ethical principles.” Further, the bill allows the exercise of “conscience” with no accountability for the consequences. Hogan writes, “Basically, there is no legal recourse for anyone harmed as a result of this bill. In fact, the bill also has protections in place that indicate that facilities that choose to discriminate based on “conscience” cannot be denied public funding or grants.”

Each of these stories reveals a State policy framework that seems interested in protecting discrimination rather than people. The Legislature’s direction in policy is sharply at odds with public opinion in Michigan. “In December of 2010, a statewide public opinion poll 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 MDCR report).”

Credible evidence and real experiences of people like Brook Johnson tell the story of two different Michigans. One in which the public supports equality and the other in which an out of touch Legislature ignores and, worse, protects discrimination.

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