Last week, in honor of National Coming Out Day, LGBT advocacy groups in Michigan launched "Don't Change Yourself. Change the Law," a campaign that will focus on amending the state's nondiscrimination law to include LGBT citizens.
Many allies and even members of the LGBT community in Michigan are unaware that individuals can still lose their jobs based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The new campaign hopes that an increased awareness will lead to greater pressure on House Speaker Jase Bolger and the Michigan Legislature to amend the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Jon Hoadley, the Unity Michigan Coalition director, pointed out that in Michigan more than 60 percent of people believe that no one should lose his or her job based on sexuality. Hoadley also noted that with Michigan's unemployment rate of 10.9 percent, it is especially timely to enhance the state's nondiscrimination law to ensure that everyone is judged solely on their performance and qualifications. Hoadley believes that the support for an amendment is there and that an increased vocalization of that support will lead to legislative change.
"The campaign is a project of the Unity Michigan Coalition," Hoadley said. "There have been a lot of really good groups in Michigan that have been working on gay and transgender issues for a while, but they came together over the last year and said, 'We really want to kick this up into high gear. How do we work together to tackle some really big projects?' We decided to go all in and have a coalition, share expenses, work efficiently and tackle these really big projects. We chose to work [ first ] on non-discrimination issues."
The timing could not be better given that the day before the campaign launched state Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, proposed a bill that would forbid civil-rights protections that go beyond Michigan's current lawin effect, rolling back protections that at least 18 local governments have enacted dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill would also prohibit school districts and state agencies from offering enhanced protections.
"I think that the current political climate is a wake-up call for anyone who wants to say that, in Michigan, discrimination doesn't happen," Hoadley said. "If that's the case, then why do opponents of equality feel the need to introduce legislation that would prohibit us from creating a solution? What is clear, based on the responses to the polling that we've seen, is that Michigan wants to be a fair and welcoming stateand if our leaders are out of touch, this issue might be that wake-up call that gets them reconnected to the people that put them in office in the first place."
Although the issue is a serious one, the organizers of the campaign wanted to find a fun way to raise awareness and promote conversation in the workplace about LGBT employment discrimination, so they came up with the "Gay/Not Gay" poster. The poster provides humorous tips on how LGBT people can blend in better at the workplace, including appropriate screensavers and grooming and fashion tips.
"We wanted to illustrate the fact that it is outrageous that an employer can make a decision on whether or not you should keep your job based on something as irrelevant as whether they think someone is gay or not gay."
For more information on the Unity Michigan Coalition visit, www.unitymichigan.org . Also see www.dontchangeyourself.com; the petition page is www.dontchangeyourself.com/change-the-law.