Michigan Campaign Hopes to End Gay Job Discrimination, Is Funny

UNITY Michigan, a coalition of six pro-gay groups in Michigan, recently began a campaign to draw attention to one big inequality in their state’s employment discrimination laws:

“We want to warn Michiganders that coming out may cost them their jobs,” said Jon Hoadley, director of the UNITY Michigan Coalition. “Our state still does not protect gay and transgender people from employment discrimination.”

The campaign, called “Don’t Change Yourself, Change the Law,” is working to raise awareness of Michigan’s lack of LGBT-inclusive employment policies. The campaign is not focused on a specific piece of legislation, since no employee protection legislation exists in the state’s legislature right now. Instead, the focus of the campaign is finding the best solution for the problem:

“The key point about this campaign is to say ‘we know that the problem is that discrimination occurs and we want to find the most appropriate way to make sure that gay and transgender folks are protected in the law.”

It is also focused on Michigan House Speaker and the state’s Civil Rights Act:

…the Unity Michigan Coalition is calling upon House Speaker Jase Bolger to amend the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, passed in 1976 to protect Michigan residents from employment and housing discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin. As part of the campaign — which was timed specifically to coincide with National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11) — coalition members are urging Bolger to update the law to include protection for LGBT workers.

“Don’t Change Yourself, Change the Law” uses both humor and real-life examples of employment discrimination to draw attention to this problem, including checklists of how to not look gay at work (which are hilarious) and stories from Michiganders who lost their jobs because of their sexual orientation. It’s a little unusual as far as campaigns go,  in that it’s somewhere in between the general “awareness” movement and a specific demand for change. The hope is that raising awareness around the issue will help open up a conversation with state legislators and figure out a way to move forward — to “tell Speaker Bolger to change the law.” There’s no telling how long that might take, but hopefully at least Michiganders will know that they need to be careful until that day finally comes.


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carmenrios

Carmen spent six years with Autostraddle, most recently as Community Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Managing Digital Editor at Ms. , host of Bitch Media's POPAGANDA podcast and Contributing Editor and co-founder of Argot magazine. Her words have also been published by BuzzFeed, ElixHER, Everyday Feminism, Girlboss, Mic, MEL, and Feministing, among others. Her successful work over the last decade in digital feminism—as a writer, social media maven and activist leader—has earned her the titles of "digital native," "intimidating to some," and "vapid and uninteresting." Everything else you need to know about her you can find out at carmenfuckingrios.com.

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26 Comments

  1. i like this campaign. i like that is shows how ludicrous it is that people are discriminated against for being gay.

    i do think though, that people are sort of uneducated about what you can be fired for. like, it sounds sort of shocking when you say you can be fired for being gay. but the truth is most people are employed at will and can be fired for almost anything except a few protected categories. the argument is sexual orientation and gender expression should be added to the protected categories. which i agree with!!! i just think its a little bit inaccurate to act like the list of things you can be fired for is smaller than the list of things you can’t be fired for. or something. i don’t know. thoughts?

    • I think one of the points here, though, is that people THINK sexual orientation is already a protected category. Polls have shown most people think there are already FEDERAL protections, in fact, which is one of the things holding back ENDA. But I agree that people don’t really get protected categories and at-will employment, either. Employment is definitely an area where people are often convinced they have a lot more protection than they really do.

      • My boss found out I was gay because of a sticker on my car. When she saw it, she pointed it out– she started treating me very differently. She continued to make side comments to me and treat me worse and worse. I knew she was trying to get rid of me and when we were alone, she was clear as to why. I set up a meeting with the CEO (her boss) to ask for help, but the situation blew up before that and she fired me. I insisted on confirmation from the CEO, and provided evidence I had collected of the discrimination. I was given severance pay and forced to sign a contract stating that I wouldn’t badmouth the company or disclose the details of the agreement. Ultimately though, I lost a job I loved, was good and and was well-respected for doing– in a poor job market and bad economy, neither one of which is kind to the unemployed.

  2. I grew up in Michigan and moved to the east coast for grad school in 2009. For the two years that I worked as a teacher between undergrad and grad school, I had to be so far in the closet, I was in frickin’ Narnia. I’m not out to my parents either, mostly because we’re a pretty religious family. I know God is cool with me, but they wouldn’t think so…yet. (I’m working on them, slowly)

    This legislation is important because it will make a state-wide decision that is biding for all cities, even the ones that solely rely on Biblical arguments for discrimination toward anyone, the queers being a favorite target. Also, there is legislation being proposed right now that will stop the prohibition of employers offering benefits to same-sex partnerships. Because right now if your employer wanted to be cool like that, it would be illegal.

    I know 5 others that have come out since high school. None of us live in Michigan anymore. It just wasn’t safe for us there. There may be wonderful, supportive communities there, but I think those are the exception, not the rule.

  3. Lia, thank you.

    At first it seemed like the end of the world– but I was very fortunate. I had some savings and was able to get unemployment while I applied for (over 300) jobs. I didn’t get a job, but I did get into a graduate program that interested me and should improve my marketability.

    It’s unfortunate that this happens in 2011– and I am sure some of the people to whom it happens have a much harder time than I did. We have to be vigilant in fighting– it has to change.

  4. Equally disturbing is Michigan’s adoption law for same sex couples. If I’m wrong, feel free to correct me, but as far as I understand:

    Adoption by all married couples is legal, taht is, same-sex adoption between married partners is not explicitly illegal. However, there is (obv.) no same sex marriage in michigan and ss marriages from other states are not considered valid. Second parent adoption rights were being granted until 2002 (¿?) when some judge ordered that those rights not be granted AND that all pending cases be transferred to him so that he could personally put himself in charge of their denial. When the ACLU (I think) tried to challenge this, he denied their motion. How this is even legally valid (conflict of interest?? can he even DO that?) is beyond me.

  5. Can we get this started in Pennsylvania too?? My internship boss accidentally met my girlfriend this summer (awkward train ride together coming into work from her house) and was 100% cool with it and actually asked how we met, how long we had been dating, whether we were doing long-distance for school, etc, but still. I want rights, dammit!

  6. Other things happening in MI (East Lansing/MSU, to be more specific):

    http://www.statenews.com/index.php/article/2011/10/city_council_to_vote_on_lbgt_bill_resolution

    This blows my mind. Currently, the City of East Lansing prohibits discrimination of any kind. A Republic representative has said that it is to “secure religious freedom.” Which is ridiculous. Where I live with my girlfriend has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with someone else’s religious beliefs. You can’t limit the freedom of one group of people in order to secure freedom for another group.

  7. I live in/am from Kalamazoo (near GR) and spent over three months in 2009 working to pass protections for the gay and trans* folks locally – if it can work in one part of the state, there’s got to be hope for the rest of it.

  8. Pingback: Michigan Introduces Anti-Anti-Bullying Bill Named After Gay Teen Suicide Victim | Legal News

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