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Religious freedom fight

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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Brian Walker, CEO of Herman Miller, explained to the committee, "Embracing the unique talents and perspectives of all our employees is an integral part of our business strategy. By doing so, we create more innovative solutions for our customers, develop stronger community and supplier relationships, and provide a supportive environment where all employees feel welcome and able to bring their whole selves to work. Unfortunately, our own workplace practices come up against the statewide reality that it is still legal in Michigan to fire someone, refuse housing, or refuse service to this community, all things that directly undermine our own efforts in the workplace."

The sentiment was heard by the committee repeatedly.

"For Michigan to drive further growth, the legislature must act to expand the protections in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect current and future residents from discrimination based on sexual orientation, as well as gender identity," Cynthia Pasky, CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions, said. "It is time to modernize the law and do the right thing for our community, the right thing for our economy, and the right thing for Michigan."

"It's definitely great that it's gotten so much support from the business community and large corporations," said Affirmations' Varner. "Diversity and equality are at the top of their priorities at the Big Three."

The requested civil rights non-discrimination protections covering sexual orientation and gender identity are guaranteed to citizens in 19 other states, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), from states as diverse as California and Massachusetts to Idaho, New Mexico, Illinois and Washington state. Three other states, New York, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin, offer protections based upon sexual orientation only.

Despite demands by Michigan House Democrats and the LGBT community, sources said there was not support within the Republican caucus for gender identity to be included in the 2014 bill. While many Republicans across the state could accept inclusion of sexual orientation in the bill, that was their line in the sand. For the transgender community, as well as the greater LGBT community as whole, that was a non-negotiable item.

Some working both in the legislature, and behind the scenes, felt it may have been in the LGBT community's best interest to meet Republicans half-way, and get the amendment with sexual orientation approved, and then move it forward for the transgender community at a later date.

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