Equal Employment in Michigan: The Time Is Now

A little over seven years ago I was brought into an office and fired for cause. The reason I was let go was because, of all things, I was honest with a coworker when asked if I was gay. This is not an uncommon story.

Even after the historic Supreme Court case that gave LGBT Americans the right to marry, many of us can still be fired for getting that marriage license. The Michigan attorney whose court case prompted the Supreme Court hearing, Dana Nessel, is now pushing forward a ballot measure in Michigan to amend our constitution and enshrine workplace equality into law.

Under normal circumstances, there would be celebration. Michigan's LGBT community, recognizing that Dana has been aggressive and successful in her past endeavors, would gather behind her. Instead, what we've seen is back-biting and off-year political nonsense from our largest LGBT organization.

Equality Michigan almost immediately sought to dampen expectations for the ballot measure. The list of strange and flippant reasons given by the head of Equality Michigan, Stephanie White, has created a fracture in the LGBT community in Michigan. Now, we're left with dissecting the arguments on both sides and asking, 'What should we do?'

One argument White made in an interview with Eclectablog can be summed up as, let's not do this because LGBT folks might get beat up. Here's the quote:

...like most gambling, it could produce a big payoff, or it could produce a painful cost. The people who will pay that cost are the members of our community who are already most vulnerable: trans people, poor people, and disproportionately, people of color. That's why we have to first invest in our coalition and first educate the public before we are ready to withstand those attacks.

I wonder if she would give that advice to Dr. Martin Luther King? Would she tell the rioters at Stonewall, 'Hey, don't do that - you're putting trans persons at risk of assault!'

My goodness.

The other argument, one which White used in her more public interviews with the Detroit News and other major organizations, was one about process. White believes, at least for now, that the legislative approach is the best one to ensure LGBT workplace protections.

There's just one problem with that: her organization has done next to nothing to ensure the legislature acts. This, despite the fact that Equality Michigan has a paid policy director, Sommer Foster.

How do I know they haven't been doing anything? I spoke with four state legislators and asked them all the same question: Has Equality Michigan spoken to you in the last year about anything? Have you ever seen them in the capitol building in the last year?

The answer, across the board, was "No."

One senior State Senator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was emphatic, "Equality Michigan has never been to my office in at least the last year. I've actually never seen them in the capital," he said.

Similar statements were echoed by a freshman state representative who also spoke on condition of anonymity, "I honestly don't know what they do. The only place where I see Sommer is on Facebook."

So, if Equality Michigan isn't pursuing a legislative solution, what are they doing?

The average LGBT person in Michigan is sick and tired of waiting for the legislature to do something. Unlike the folks working at Equality Michigan, not all of us have the luxury of waiting years and years for a solution, because many of us are in hostile workplaces right now.

Not to mention, the current legislature is majority Republican. Due to the harsh gerrymandering in Michigan, the only legislative route to victory would be if the Democrats win the governors race in 2018 and get to redistrict the state in 2022. Then, there's a possibility we could win a majority in the state house in 2024. Thus, the only viable legislative route includes waiting eight years or longer.

Are we really willing to wait that long, while our largest advocacy organization isn't even working hard in Lansing to make it happen?

It's about damn time somebody did something for LGBT workplace protection in Michigan. The time for talk is over. It's time to get out our clipboards and knock on some doors for workplace equality. The time for the ballot measure is now.