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Chatfield quits economic development group over opposition to expanding civil rights law

a portrait of speaker of the Michigan house lee chatfield
Michigan House Republicans

Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield is out as the CEO of a Kalamazoo-area economic development organization.

He quit amid controversy over his opposition to adding LGBTQ protections to the state civil rights law as the House Republican leader.Chatfield shared the news of his resignation via a lengthy post on Twitter:

He said “many of my political opinions have caused an uproar. That much was obvious. Also, “…as a board of directors, you deserve someone with a blank political slate that won’t bring about the division that I’ve unfortunately caused.”

Southwest Michigan First is made up of businesses, education and not-for-profit groups. Some members threatened to leave the organization based largely on Chatfield’s record against expanding the state’s civil rights law.

“The resignation of Mr. Chatfield as the CEO of Southwest Michigan First sends a very strong message to legislators that are going to be termed out,” said Erin Knott, a Kalamazoo city commissioner and the director of the civil rights group Equality Michigan. “If you have plans of re-entering the workplace in corporate America, you need to do right by the LGBT community or you won’t get hired post your legislative service.”

This development took place as a Democratic lawmaker is about to re-introduce a bill to add “sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression” to protected classes in the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

Representative Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) said the episode shows there is momentum behind the effort to expand the law.

“Whatever the reasoning for that is,” she said. “I think it’s important to show that that is happening and it is something we officially in the Legislature can and should act on immediately.”

The bill is to be officially read in during Tuesday’s House session.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.