With landmark LGBTQ+ rights bill on the brink of becoming law, Michigan advocates look ahead

By: - March 16, 2023 4:54 am

Susan J. Demas

With Thursday’s planned signing by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of an expansion of the 1973 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA), LGBTQ+ advocates are savoring a hard-fought victory and looking ahead to where the fight for equal rights goes now.

Senate Bill 4 expands ELCRA to protect against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. After winning final House passage last week, it’s on the desk of Whitmer, who has told the Michigan Advance she’s “very much looking forward” to signing it.

[Left to right] Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott, state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) and Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson after a Michigan civil rights committee passed Moss’s bill to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act on Feb. 9, 2023. | Photo by Anna Gustafson

Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan, said amid this victory, they also are taking stock of what’s happening across the rest of the country, especially in red states. 

“There are currently over 400 anti-trans bills moving across the United States,” said Knott. “That’s twice the amount introduced last year and that inspires us to continue to push hard and as fast as we can here in Michigan to move good LGBTQ+ policy. It’s an opportunity that we don’t take lightly in this moment.”

While several Michigan Republicans crossed the aisle to approve the civil rights expansion, advocates note that the bill was only taken up because Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature. Previous attempts to add gender identity and sexual orientation protections failed to get out of committee by past GOP-led chambers.

As the Advance previously reported, a statewide coalition of LGBTQ+ organizations conducted the largest effort in the nation to turn out voters in 2022 to support candidates who back LGBTQ+ rights.

The #HateWontWin coalition included Equality Michigan, the state’s top LGBTQ+ rights organization, along with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Affirmations, the ACLU of Michigan and more than a dozen other partner groups who conducted a massive door-knocking campaign across the state.

HRC MI State Director Amritha Venkataraman highlighted efforts in a key Senate swing seat election.   

“The #HateWontWin coalition was all in on electing a pro-equality champion in state Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City),” she said. “And while we worked other places in the state, I think there’s a really clear line between the work we did in that area to make sure we were defeating the anti-LGBTQ candidate and lifting up our champion to make sure we had this pro-equality Senate.”

McDonald Rivet, a Bay City Commissioner at the time, defeated Rep. Annette Glenn (R-Midland) by a nearly 7-point margin. Glenn garnered criticism from LGBTQ+ advocates last year for her support of a bill that would have discriminated against trans high school athletes.

There are currently over 400 anti-trans bills moving across the United States. That's twice the amount introduced last year and that inspires us to continue to push hard and as fast as we can here in Michigan to move good LGBTQ+ policy. It's an opportunity that we don't take lightly in this moment.

– Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan

Knott told the Michigan Advance that they are humbled with the success of the #HateWontWin campaign and working toward other LGBTQ+ rights bills passing the Legislature, like banning conversion therapy and eliminating the gay-trans panic defense. 

“We would also like to see some transgender policy passed,” she said. “Looking at the executive order related to documents and IDs that came out of the Secretary of State’s office and codifying that into public law, making it easier for transgender individuals to change their names without having to publish their soon-to-be dead name out there with their new name.”

Venkataraman says the coalition is planning a coordinated strategy moving forward, of which colleagues in other states have taken notice.

“I think that from my own conversations with friends who are working in the movement in other places, Michigan is absolutely the ray of hope around the country,” said Venkataraman. “I think the #HateWontWin coalition and the work that we’re doing to expand ELCRA and work on other priorities shows that voters are on our sides when we can mobilize a large ground effort and when we have fair maps. So, I hope that is giving a little bit of hope to my weary colleagues fighting the fights in other states.”


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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.