Minorities urge inclusion in LGBTQ rights push

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As she continues calls to expand Michigan civil rights protections to members of the LGBTQ community, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer attended a Pride Month event in Grand Rapids Tuesday.

She met with activists and community leaders to get input on LGBTQ concerns related to jobs, education, health care and housing.

“One way or another, I am all in to make sure that we get Michigan on the right side of history,” Whitmer said.

The governor and other Democrats are pushing an expansion to the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, a 1976 law that protects people from discrimination. The bill currently does not include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“You can be fired for who you are or who you love. You can lose your housing  based on who you are who you love,” Whitmer said following the roundtable and reception at Brewery Vivant in Eastown.

She said the gap in the law may discourage new businesses and residents looking to move into Michigan. Business leaders are on board with expanding Elliott-Larsen.

“When Michigan lands with a D (grade) on LGBT rights when you compare us to the rest of the country, it tells the world that we’re not a wonderful place to make your life,” the governor said. 

But some say Tuesday’s closed-door conversation left out the people who most need Whitmer’s ear. Eleanor Moreno said she was the only queer, Afro-Latina invited to the private roundtable discussion and that there were only five people of color in the group of 30.

“My original frustration from this gathering of amazing people was that it was a lot of business leaders. What about the real people? I intentionally said during our introductions that I’m just here to represent my people,” Moreno said.

She felt the discussion targeted businesses.

“And that’s fine, but where’s our space then?” she said.

She said Whitmer missed an opportunity to hear about the struggles real people face.

“A lot of my earlier years as a professional, I had to hide who I was. I couldn’t bring my partner to any of my work parties or gatherings,” Moreno said.

When she did go out with her partner, she would introduce her as her best friend.

“We’re trying, but trying is not good enough. There needs to be a lot more intentionality,” Moreno said.

The city of Grand Rapids invited a Detroit artist to paint part of Sheldon Avenue north of Fulton Street downtown with a colorful Pride Month mural called “Rainbow Road,” and work on that got underway Tuesday. But Moreno said it’s another example of how the voices of people like her are muted.

“Don’t even get me started on that because our neighborhood wanted to paint our streets and the city said no,” she said.

There is legislation in both the state House of Representatives and Senate to expand Elliott-Larsen. The bill in the House is being sponsored by Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, who is gay.

“Since he (Hoadley) is identifying as a gay male, it’s really important that his voice be listened to because his lived experience will inform many people of the realities for many of us who may not have that opportunity to speak to power,” Tommy Allen, interim board president of the Grand Rapids Pride Center, told 24 Hour News 8 at the event.

Republican leaders don’t seem inclined to get on board with the bills. Whitmer said if they don’t pass, she may look into putting the matter before the public in a ballot question.

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