Months after he searched for Republican co-sponsors for a bill outlawing discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people, State Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor) introduced his bill with three GOP co-sponsors signing their support.

Eston Bond
State Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor) announces support for an anti-discrimination bill at an LGBT rally on Jan. 12 at the capitol building in Lansing. (TOMMASO GOMEZ / Daily)

Reps. Edward Gaffney (R-Grosse Pointe Farms), John Stewart (R-Plymouth) and Lorence Wenke (R-Richland) have signed on as co-sponsors to Kolb’s bill that would amend the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity.

The Elliot-Larsen act specifically prohibits discrimination in employment, public accommodations, public services, education and housing. Stewart and Wenke also co-sponsored two bills that Kolb has also introduced to make violent crimes against LGBT people a hate crime, which carries lengthier penalties than normal violent crimes.

Kolb said in April that he would introduce the bills by the end of the month with or without the Republican co-sponsors he was actively seeking out — a decision he postponed when slow progress had been made to get support from members of the GOP.

“I was trying to get the groups that were up here lobbying time to have some impact on the legislators and there was a lot going on at that time. We asked people and we were waiting to get someone on board,” Kolb said.

Kolb said one unnamed Republican agreed to be a co-sponsor first, and the other two followed, probably because they felt more comfortable once their colleague had signed on. Kolb said he did not cut deals with his co-sponsors, but asked them to sign on after they saw the legislation.

“One of the reasons we wanted to get Republican co-sponsors was to show that (the bill) had support in the legislature and could get some movement,” Kolb said, referring also to the committees the bills will be sent to.

Last year Kolb’s bills had not been given a hearing by committees, preventing them from being voted on. There were no Republican co-sponsors ­— ­and fewer co-sponsors — for last year’s legislation than there are for this year’s set of bills.

Last year’s defeat aside, similar efforts to amend the Elliot-Larsen act have failed in every legislative session since 1998 — something Kolb believes is less likely to happen with bi-partisan support.

“I think that helps in moving legislation … to have members of the majority party to say ‘we support this legislation.”

’It speaks volumes,” Kolb said.

Kolb said he felt that representatives who voted against putting Proposal 2 on the ballot for last November’s election and were re-elected made them feel that supporting anti-discrimination and hate crimes legislation for LGBT people was not politically risky.

“I feel also part of it was that people who voted against the marriage amendment on the ballot did not loose their election. This is what we were trying to point out to elected officials: this is not an issue that costs you your political career,” Kolb said.

Of the three Republicans co-sponsoring the amendment to the Elliot-Larsen act, only Wenke voted against last session’s bill that put Proposal 2 on the ballot.

Wenke and Stewart co-sponsored both bills aimed at making violent crime against LGBT people a hate crime. Gaffney co-sponsored the bill that adds crimes committed against someone because of their sexual orientation or gender expression and identity. Gaffney did not co-sponsor the bill that is also needed to change the sentencing guideline for hate crimes.

Kolb said it is has been too long without a change to the state’s laws to protect LGBT people from discrimination.

“We need to make sure we provide legal protection from discrimination. We believe it’s high time that Michigan move forward on these issues. People today should not have the fear that they’ll lose their job soley because people fear them or are part of the LGBT community,” Kolb said.

Kolb added that hate crime legislation was also important to stop the fear that some have because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Hate crimes are not just committed against a single person, but they are actually being committed against a whole group of individuals. They’re usually much more violent and they’re done to intimidate and assault the entire community,” Kolb said.

Kolb said he expects to get movement on the bill within the next year, once the legislature is finished with budgetary legislation. He already considers the co-sponsors a win.

“Getting three Republican co-sponsors for the bill is a major victory. We’re going to take it one step at a time,” Kolb said.

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