By SARAH CWIEK
Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed her ninth executive order Monday at Ferndale’s Affirmations, a community center for the LGBTQ community.
The order extends non-discrimination protections to LGBTQ state employees. It also mandates those protections for LGBTQ people who work for state contractors, or receive state services.
Erin Knott, interim executive director of Equality Michigan, says current Michigan law doesn’t explicitly protect people based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“This directive means executive branch employees won’t have to worry about discrimination hurting their ability to support themselves or their family,” Knott said. “Or that conservation officers can’t harass same-sex partners camping in our state parks later this summer. Or that M-DOT contractors, when they finally start to fix our roads, can discriminate against their workers.”
Knott called on lawmakers to expand Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2018, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission ruled the law’s prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex should also apply to the LGBTQ community.
Whitmer says this executive order is about making state government—and Michigan itself—“a model of equality of opportunity.” But she says it’s also about jumpstarting the codification of those legal changes, which would require state legislators’ cooperation.
“What this does, this executive directive does, is give a level of legitimacy of protections for people of all walks of life in the state of Michigan,” Whitmer said. “And that’s what this is all about. Elevating, legitimizing, protecting, and moving forward to make sure that we expand it to everyone in the state.”
Jayniece Poindexter, a transgender activist and victim advocate with Equality Michigan, said even though Whitmer’s directive doesn’t protect her as a trans woman, it’s still “huge beyond belief.”
“To have her at the helm saying I will respect these people, I will honor these people, and I will love on these people because they’re people first…that is huge for us,” Poindexter said. “We have a responsible administration in the office saying ‘I support you, I stand with you, and more than being an ally, I’m an accomplice.’”