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Stateside Podcast: Michigan passes new LGBTQ protections

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Yannis Papanastasopoulos

For decades, Michigan Democrats and activists have fought to expand civil rights for the state’s LGBTQ+ community. Yesterday, much of that work paid off. Governor Whitmer signed a bill that will add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The expanded law protects Michigan’s LGBTQ+ residents from discrimination in housing, employment, education, and access to public accommodations.

Stateside spoke to Jay Kaplan, an attorney with the Michigan ACLU, about how far the movement has come – and how far they hope to go.

The decades-long push for LGBTQ+ rights

“When we started the project, a lot of the national LGBTQ organizations looked at Michigan really as a lost state because of who was governor, the majority in our Legislature or our Michigan Supreme Court at that time,” said Kaplan, who has been with the Michigan ACLU for 22 years. “[A]nd what a difference two decades plus makes. And it really demonstrates that elections can have very positive consequences.”

Kaplan said he expects the new legislation to give way to more discrimination complaints in the state. Instead of just court rulings cementing civil rights, he hopes the new codification will give folks a better idea of their legal protections.

“[I] think the knowledge that it’s actually written in the statute is going to provide notice to people that they are protected, and that they do have this remedy under this law,” said Kaplan.

The road ahead

Despite the big win at the Capitol, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment has seen an uptick in recent headlines. Parents, school boards, and even libraries have made efforts to ban or limit books that center queer stories and youth. In some cases, queer events – like a drag brunch at a bookstore – have been protested.

“[W]e've made tremendous progress, but we must remain vigilant,” commented Kaplan. “I think this is symbolic of a backlash in response to the progress that has been made. And I think there are people on the other side of the fence [who] have decided that to engage in what we would consider to be a culture war is politically advantageous for them at this time. And I think many times, the strategy behind some of this is fueled by cynicism.”

But the progress over these past few decades stems from changing public attitudes towards folks who identify as queer.

“More and more people know somebody who might be gay or lesbian,” Kaplan said. “[S]ociety's awareness about what it means to be transgender isn't as widespread…And so you find certain politicians that are taking advantage of this lack of knowledge…who’ve decided that it is advantageous to introduce legislation like this as a way to either solidify their base or to raise money for their political campaigns.”

In an increasingly charged political landscape, Kaplan says the road toward more civil rights protections for Michigan's trans residents and queer youth lies in education.

“[W]e have to continue getting the word out and getting correct information out with the understanding that people go to their own channels that they want to to get that kind of information,” Kaplan told Stateside. “[I]t's a tough situation. It does feel many times that we're playing catch up. I think the important thing is to get information out to people, to educate people about these issues and what this means.”

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Music in this episode byBlue Dot Sessions.

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Ellie Katz joined the Stateside team as an intern in September 2022.
April Van Buren is a producer for Stateside. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.