Michigan LGBTQ rights effort submits almost 500K signatures

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had Pride flags hoisted on the Romney Building for the first time | Susan J. Demas

The COVID-19 pandemic wounded an effort to ban discrimination in jobs and housing for LGBTQ people in Michigan this year. But on Tuesday, the Fair and Equal Michigan campaign announced it turned in almost 500,000 signatures for an initiative that could be taken up by the Legislature or go on the 2022 ballot.

“Michigan stands united to bring LGBTQ rights into law for the first time. Our grassroots of nearly 500,000 people and the submission of signatures in a pandemic stems from the decades of changing hearts and minds by the Michiganders who have shared their story with their family and friends of who they are and who they love,” said Fair and Equal Michigan Co-Chair Trevor Thomas.

The initiative would amend the state Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The GOP-controlled Legislature has never taken up legislation, despite polling showing the issue above 70% support.

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Fair and Equal Michigan formed in January with the intention of getting a measure on the Nov. 3 ballot. The coalition boasted support from a number of business and LGBTQ rights groups. However, it was one of several initiatives, including ones for a graduated income tax and lobbying reform, that was stunted by the pandemic, as gathering signatures was a challenge.

Fair and Equal Michigan attempted to continue collecting signatures, including online, but ultimately fell short to make this year’s ballot. On Tuesday, the group turned in 483,461 signatures, exceeding the 340,047 valid signatures required. If the Board of State Canvassers certifies the petitions as valid, Michigan lawmakers have 40 days to pass the legislation or send the issue to voters in 2022 general election.

In 2019, there was a strong push to amend Elliott-Larsen in the Legislature, with Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) and Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) leading the charge and both Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel supporting it. However, GOP leadership has not acted. The entire House is up for reelection this year, but the Senate is not up until 2022, making it unlikely that the Legislature would approve an LGBTQ rights law.

“Michigan’s lack of anti-discrimination protections gives LGBTQ people a distinct disadvantage in Michigan and allows us to be legally treated as second-class citizens. No one should be discriminated against based on what they look like or who they love. This citizen’s bill, which has the backing of nearly half a million people, will ensure everyone in this state has an equal chance to succeed,” said Fair and Equal Michigan Co-Chair Dr. Mira Jourdan.

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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.