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Public Hearing on amending the Elliot Larson Act sparsely attended in Grand Rapids

September 19, 2012

This was the fourth hearing across the state this year by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission to gather input on whether or no Amend the state’s Elliot Larson Civil Rights Act to include LGBT rights.

In June, this writer attended the hearing in Holland, which drew roughly 250 people to that gathering, with both sides arguing passionately on the issue. When the hearing began in Grand Rapids only a dozen people were present.

The first speaker was a woman from the ACLU Western Michigan Branch. Her emphasis was that if Michigan changes the law to provide more rights and equal rights to those who identify as LGBT or Q so that people will stay in the state, thus retaining and attracting talent in order to make Michigan a more thriving economic state.

The second speaker identified as Transgender, who also is faced with physical disabilities. Rhonda told the audience that she has had numerous experiences in job applications, not because of her education background (she has several Masters Degrees), but because she did not look like the person in her ID looks like a man.

A young African American man then addressed the commission and said that he was born in 1994, the year that Grand Rapids passed an LGBT inclusive ordinance. This young man said he has not personally experienced much discrimination, but he knows of many people who have.

The next speaker began by saying he was not a homophobe, but then went on to say that the state law should not be amended to include LGBT rights in the Elliot Larsen Act. He said that he believed that this effort is about promoting the LGBT lifestyle, which he called a tyranny being imposed on communities and agencies. He also stated that churches are being forced to perform same sex marriages, citing Denmark churches as an example.

Because there were so few people in attendance (roughly 15), the commission allowed people to speak more than once. Both Rhonda and the young African American man responded to the comments by the person who said that the LGBT community was imposing a tyranny of rights on churches. Rhonda said that she has a long history of involvement in the Lutheran Church and disagreed with the belief that “gays are imposing their will on churches.”

It was frustrating that so few people attended the hearing considering the level of discrimination that exists against the LGBTQ community, both in Grand Rapids and around the state.

We know about the Kent County Sheriff Department’s practice of targeting Gay men in parks and the recent threats made against women the LGBT folks at the Gay Day event held in the East Hills Neighborhood. However, in talking to one of the commissioners, they stated that there were already 100 written submissions sent in, just from Grand Rapids. They will be accepting written testimony for a few more months, just send calcagnor@michigan.gov.

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