The Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) spoke to students on Oct. 17 about civil rights laws but one law has yet to be enacted; the protection of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community.
“Unfortunately in Michigan there is no legal protection at this point, based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” Acting director of the Department of Civil Rights Leslee Fritz said. “We have been advocating as a department the Elliot-Larson Civil Rights Act, which is the primary law, be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity,” Fritz said.
The Elliot-Larson Civil Rights Act prohibits discriminatory practices, policies and customs based on religion, race, national origin, color, age, height, weight, sex, familial status, marital status and criminal record according to Michigan.gov. The Elliot-Larson Civil Rights Act does not include protection of the LGBT community.
“You can still be fired from a job, denied a place to live or turned away from a restaurant, hotel or public facility because you are perceived to be gay or lesbian,” Fritz said.
Strategic partnership coordinator of MDCR Mark Bishop explained that a person can be fired because their boss “thought” they were gay.
The panel discussed that the majority of people now know someone who is LGBT and that may help with changing the law.
“There is for the first time, at least in my nearly 15 years working in Lansing, a glimmer of hope that the legislature might address it,” Fritz said.
Fritz explained how the MDCR was formed.
“We were created as a part of the new Michigan constitution in 1963,” Fritz said. “Michigan was the first state in the country and remains the only state to have a civil rights commission that was constitutionally created and given constitutional authority to enforce law.”
Elected delagates came to Lansing to re-write the constitution for many reasons. This was a time when civil rights were not agreed upon by the majority of the population. Riots were happening in Detroit and it was a “difficult time to do what we do” explained Fritz.
“Public opinion was not on the side of those advocating civil rights [during the re-write of the constitution],” Fritz said. “More than half of the country thought integration was happening too fast.”
Fritz explained the primary issue when the constitution was written was race relations. Today the number one issue is still race relations.
As well as responding to more than 2,000 discriminatory complaints each year the “MDCR offers training to citizens, businesses and community groups on a range of topics, including diversity, disabilities, sexual harassment, housing discrimination, cultural awareness, hate crimes and civil rights laws,” according to Michigan.gov.
The panel discussed there are constant challenges facing discrimination.
“We believe at the heart it’s really the same issue that we were dealing with 50 years ago and that’s figuring out how to not let fear of the unknown, of difference, cloud our judgment and influence our behavior,” Fritz said.