Gov. Rick Snyder recently sparked controversy by appointing Bishop Ira Combs Jr. to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. Combs, a Republican and Pentecostal minister in Jackson, is well-known for condemning pro-LGBT legislation. However, Snyder said he appointed Combs because of his background in fighting for racial justice and people with disabilities.
In February 2017, Combs outwardly opposed an ordinance that would ban discrimination against individuals in the LGBT community. The Jackson City Council eventually passed the ordinance with 5 in support and 2 against the vote.
Combs’ anti-LGBT record dates back farther than 2017. He has supported anti-LGBT lawsuits, including defending marriage discrimination against same-sex couples. He also opposed the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance at Jackson High School.
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is an eight-person body that investigates civil rights complaints and proposes legislation to the governor. The commission has recently been charged with determining whether Michigan’s main anti-discrimination law, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, should be broadened to include protection for the LGBT community in housing and employment.
The governor’s office has responded to inquiries about Combs’ appointment by saying they want the commission to represent different views and backgrounds.
“The governor appoints people of various backgrounds and experiences to many different boards and commissions, and that includes the Civil Rights Commission, where appointees bring their own distinct backgrounds to discussions and actions that work to protect the rights of Michiganders,” Snyder’s office said in a statement to the Detroit Free Press.
Nonprofit organizations Equality Michigan and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan have both released statements condemning Combs’ appointment.
“At a time when our nation is so divided, the Governor’s appointment to the commission of someone who has blatantly opposed the rights of the LGBTQ community is a huge disappointment,” Kary Moss, executive director of ACLU of Michigan, said in a statement released by the organization. “We expect more from our elected officials who are charged with protecting and representing all people in this state.”
Public Policy junior Lauren Schandevel, communications director for the University’s chapter of College Democrats, also criticized Snyder’s decision to appoint Combs and called the decision “unacceptable.”
“Snyder's decision is not only extremely confusing, it also puts LGBTQ+ individuals in potential legal danger,” Schandevel said. “His equally perplexing statement insinuates that prioritizing ‘differences of views’ is an excuse for appointing someone whose values run contrary to the core mission of a civil rights board. Overall, the appointment is alarming and unacceptable.”
LSA senior Emily Kaufman, president and founder of student organization LGBT Michigan, said she is concerned about Combs’ appointment, but believes it is just maintaining the status quo in Michigan.
“You can be fired for being gay or trans in the state of Michigan from your job,” Kaufman said. “You can be denied housing, and in certain situations, I believe with medical care. So, I don’t think this is going to change anything. It’s continuing the status quo of not protecting LGBT people.”
As a way to advocate for pro-LGBT legal protections, Kaufman is organizing an LGBT advocacy meeting with Michigan state legislators. In January, Kaufman attended a LGBT conference in Washington, D.C. and met with senators from Delaware to discuss bills that would protect trans rights.
“You change people with stories,” Kaufman said. “People change people. So if we went to the legislators of Michigan every year for five years, things would change, and you would have a tangible difference.”
The University's chapter of College Republicans did not respond to request for comment.