Metro Weekly

“Big Three” automakers back campaign to add LGBTQ protections to Michigan’s civil rights law

Organizers hope support from major auto companies will boost the number of voter signatures they can collect

gmc, ford, chrysler, lgbtq, michigan

Photos (L-R): Steady Hand Co.; Caleb White; Dan Gomer

The country’s three largest automobile manufacturers have endorsed a Michigan initiative aimed at banning discrimination against LGBTQ people.

General Motors Company, Ford Motor Company, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced last week that they are endorsing the initiative, which would amend Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Specifically, the amendment would define discrimination based on “sex” to include instances where a person is treated differently because of their “gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression.”

The initiative would also amend the definition of “religion” to include the “religious beliefs of an individual.”

The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign, which is behind the initiative, is currently trying to amass the requisite number of 340,047 signatures from registered voters needed to place the initiative on the ballot by May 27.

The campaign has already collected 150,000 signatures and hopes to collect another 542,000 signatures to ensure the measure won’t be rejected on technicalities, reports the Michigan media group MLive.

If the campaign collects the necessary amount of signatures, lawmakers have 40 days to either adopt the proposal or allow voters to decide it as part of a measure that would appear on the 2020 ballot this November.

The support of the “Big Three” is significant in Michigan, where more than 40,000 people work in the auto manufacturing industry, and signals the willingness of the business community to back pro-LGBTQ initiatives.

Equality advocates in other states have been able to successfully leverage the support of the business community in pressuring politicians to either approve pro-LGBTQ laws or defeat anti-LGBTQ pieces of legislation.

“The ‘Big Three’ auto companies understand that every Michigander deserves a fair and equal chance to succeed,” Fair and Equal Michigan Co-Chair Trevor Thomas said in a statement. “FCA, Ford and GM know first-hand this is about attracting and retaining the best talent to Michigan in support of economy.”

All of the “Big Three” issued statements casting their support as essential to recruiting and retaining top talent whose contributions will allow the companies to remain competitive and improve their bottom lines.

“In order to continue to compete and win globally, we must be able to recruit and retain the talented people from all backgrounds,” Lori Costew, the chief diversity officer at Ford Motor Company, said in a statement. “In supporting these efforts to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, Ford Motor Company affirms our belief that inclusion of everyone makes us stronger, drives more innovation and, in turn, is best for customers and other stakeholders.”

“At GM, promoting a culture that is inclusive and free of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, affords all our employees to proudly be who they are at work…an environment that is open, supportive, and empowering…where everyone is valued and belongs,” Ken Barrett, the chief diversity officer at General Motors Company, added.

Mark Stewart, the chief operating officer for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in North America, said FCA is committed to fostering diversity in the workplace and a positive working environment that will ultimately enable the company to exceed the expectations of its diverse customer base.

“[W]e believe that amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections for LGBTQ individuals is an important step towards achieving full equality and respect for all people,” he said.

Other companies backing the addition of LGBTQ protections to Michigan’s civil rights law include DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, Apple, Dow, Rock Holdings, and Herman Miller. The initiative has also been endorsed by the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Chamber, the Michigan Dental Association, the League of Women Voters, the American Association of University Women and the State Employees Retiree Association.

The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign recently became the first ballot initiative in the state to collect signatures electronically in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, when most Michigan residents are practicing social distancing in order to mitigate the spread of the virus.

While the Fair and Equal Michigan campaign has informed the state of its plan to collect signatures electronically, it is still unclear whether doing so will withstand any potential legal challenges.

However, a recent executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) encouraging “the use of electronic signatures, remote notarizations, remote witness attestations and acknowledgments, and remote visitations.” According to that order, a signature “will not be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form and if a law requires a signature, an electronic signature satisfies the law.”

For more information on Fair and Equal Michigan’s initiative, or to sign the petition, registered voters may visit www.fairandequalmichigan.com.

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Shelf Wood
John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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