Report: Michigan among worst states for LGBTQ equality

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Michigan ranks among the bottom 28 states for LGBTQ rights, a new study says.

The “State Equality Index,” issued by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation and Equality Federation, put Michigan in its lowest-rated category, “High priority to achieve basic equality.”  

Right to Work protest, Michigan Capitol, December 2012 | Wikimedia Commons

Current policies holding the state back from greater equality, based on the HRC criteria, include Michigan’s sodomy laws, laws that allow for discrimination against same-sex couples seeking to adopt or be foster parents and the exclusion of transgender people from Medicaid coverage.

The state joins neighboring Ohio and Indiana in that category, as well as states like Arkansas, Arizona and Mississippi. Other Great Lakes states, such as Wisconsin and Illinois, fared better.

The study had four categories, with “Working Toward Innovative Equality” as the highest rating. Sixteen states reached that, including California, New York and Illinois.

Four states were in the next-highest category, “Solidifying Equality”: Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland and New Hampshire. The next rating was “Building Equality,” which was earned by two states, Utah and Wisconsin.

The designation by the organizations comes as Michigan’s new Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats, have made moves to bolster LGBTQ equality.

Gretchen Whitmer (left) and Garlin Gilchrist II (right) announcing the LGBTQ directive, Jan. 7, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Last week, Nessel moved to settle a pending federal lawsuit regarding the state’s adoption and foster care laws for same-sex couples, a law signed by former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. And on Thursday, Nessel said Michigan will withdraw from a case that she says would allow for discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Additionally, in one of her earliest moves as the state’s chief executive, Whitmer signed an executive directive aimed at protecting state employees from any kind of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Whitmer’s directive built upon a similar order from Snyder just before he left office, but could face a legal challenge on religious grounds, as the Advance first reported.

The move to increase protections for state employees by Whitmer received praise from HRC.

“Elections matter. In one of her first actions as governor, pro-equality champion Gretchen Whitmer has extended long overdue non-discrimination protections to members of the LGBTQ community,” HRC Michigan State Director Amritha Venkataraman said in a statement. “… These executive actions are an important step forward in the fight against discrimination, but there’s more work to be done.”

Dana Nessel, Oct. 16, 2013 | Bill Pugliano, Getty Images

HRC called for the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to be expanded to explicitly include protections for the LGBTQ community. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission (MCRC) last year decided the law includes includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Nessel is scheduled on Friday to speak at the MCRC meeting in Detroit on this issue.

Challenges remain, however. Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) has indicated that he’s unlikely to bring that issue for a vote, saying he believes it “infringes on someone’s ability to exercise their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Lee Chatfield | Wikimedia Commons

On the national front, executives with HRC and the Equality Federation expressed optimism that the newly elected Democratic majority in the U.S. House would work to further LGBTQ-friendly policies, but also point out that much of their work remains at the state level.

“The strength of the state-based LGBTQ movement is critical to elevate our representation, visibility and equality across the country,” said Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of the Equality Federation Institute. “As we look to the next legislative session, the State Equality Index should serve as a recognition of how far we have come and how much we have yet to achieve.”

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.


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