This year, the Michigan State Legislature has proposed three pieces of legislation that would directly impact its LGBTQ+ constituency.
Two of the bills — one that aims to revise the state school code affecting transgender students’ participation in sports and another that advocates for expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act — have been referred to various committees and haven’t been enacted.
The third resolution, passed in June 2021, recognized June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month.
Transgender Youth Participation in Sports
A bill currently passing through the Michigan State Senate would amend the school code to add a section barring transgender students from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity.
The bill was introduced in March by state Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton). It was referred to the Committee on Education and Career Readiness and is still in committee.
The bill defines biological sex as “the physical condition of being male or female as determined by an individual’s chromosomes and anatomy as identified at birth.”
LSA senior Ryan Fisher, chair of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Republicans, wrote in an email to The Daily that the group supports the mission of the proposed bill but has “no specific comments for any of these three bills.”
In March 2021, Hart Research Associates, a leading U.S. public opinion research firm, conducted a survey about transgender youth participation in sports. The results showed that 70% of respondents supported the Equality Act, which would “add protections based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity to use of public spaces and services and federally funded programs.”
Michigan Law student Reggie Stewart is a member of Outlaws, a student group that advocates for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ perspectives in the Law School.
“Senate Bill No. 218 is a blatantly anti-trans bill that mirrors similar discriminatory legislation being introduced in other states across the country,” Stewart wrote in an email to The Daily. “It is sex discrimination under Title IX, which should protect all students, including trans students, on the basis of sex. Trans student-athletes should be allowed to participate in the athletic teams with which they identify.”
Expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act
Currently, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act makes it illegal in Michigan to discriminate based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status or marital status, but does not include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Michigan House Bill No. 4297 would expand the law to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” as classes protected from discrimination. It defines gender identity or expression as “having or being perceived as having a gender-related self-identity or expression whether or not associated with an individual’s assigned sex at birth.”
MI HB4297 was introduced in February 2021 by state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) and referred to the Committee on Judiciary. Its Senate counterpart, MI SB0208, was introduced a month later by state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) and referred to the Committee on Government Operations.
Under current Michigan law, individuals who are gay or transgender lack explicit protections from being fired or refused housing or services.
In August 2013, Michigan resident Aimee Stephens, an employee at the R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes group in southeast Michigan, was fired shortly after sending a letter to her employer explaining she would be transitioning. Stephens’ letter said she planned to return to work after taking time off to undergo gender reassignment surgery and would be dressing in female attire.
LSA senior Olivia Ngo, executive board member of the University’s chapter of HeForShe, a student organization dedicated to gender equality, told The Daily in an email that the organization supports the amendment to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act because it would prevent people from being fired in situations similar to Stephens’.
“Aimee Stephens was a Michigan citizen and should never have been fired — a law like this earlier would have helped her,” Ngo wrote. “Nobody should face discrimination for being LGTBQ+.”
Stewart said including both sexual orientation as well as gender identity and expression as protected classes is critical for Michigan’s LGBTQ+ community.
“Codifying protections for sexual orientation and gender identity/expression is long, long overdue,” Stewart wrote. “Members of the Michigan House Democrats have been pushing to include these specific protections in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act for years.”
Despite supporting the passage of the bill, Stewart said the definitions of sexual orientation in the bill aren’t comprehensive enough. The legislation defines sexual orientation as “having an orientation for heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality or having a history of such an orientation or being identified with such an orientation.”
“We would also be remiss to ignore how rigid the categorical definition of sexual orientation is — the spectrum of sexual orientation is wide and varied,” Stewart wrote.
Recognition of June 2021 as Pride Month
In early June 2021, the Michigan legislature adopted a resolution to recognize June 2021 as LGBTQ+ Pride Month.
In March 1970, the U-M chapter of the Gay Liberation Front was established by alumni Jim Toy. The following year, Toy and Cynthia Gair co-founded the Human Sexuality Office, later named the Lesbian-Gay Male Programs Office. This office is currently named the Spectrum Center and was one of the first LGBTQ+ student centers ever established in the United States.
“This is a positive step towards amplifying LGBTQ+ voices in Michigan,” Ngo wrote.
Stewart said Outlaws is celebrating the resolution, which marks the first time in Michigan history that both chambers of the state legislature formally recognized June as Pride Month.
“We sincerely hope that legislative leaders will continue to recognize the importance and basic civil rights of the state’s LGBTQ+ community by finally extending protections for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression,” Stewart wrote.
Daily Staff Reporter Scarlett Bickerton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.