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New Great Lakes Governors Move on LGBTQ Equality

Michigan, Wisconsin Democrats offer protections for state employees, residents seeking public services

Michigan’s new governor, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, after signing an executive order extending nondiscrimination protections.
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Governors Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Tony Evers of Wisconsin have signed executive orders banning discrimination against state employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The executive orders, issued on the first week in office for both Democratic governors, also ban contractors doing business with the state from discriminating against LGBTQ employees.

Michigan’s former governor, Republican Rick Snyder, signed a similar executive order before leaving office last year, but it exempted churches and religious organizations. The new order in Michigan contains no such exemption — and it also goes a step further by prohibiting discrimination in the provision of services, which means state employees cannot discriminate against participants in government programs and services.

The new governors signed the executive orders on their first day in office.

The pair of executive orders give LGBTQ employees in those states a boost following a tumultuous two-year span during which voters in Michigan and Wisconsin — both pivotal swing states — played a significant role in electing Donald Trump, who shattered the “blue wall” when he won those states and Pennsylvania by a combined total of less than 100,000 votes.

In the 2018 midterms, voters in Michigan and Wisconsin signaled a major retrenchment from their preferences two years before.

Signs of a shift in Wisconsin were evident when Democrat Caleb Frostman — who has since been pegged to serve in Evers’ administration — won a special election last summer for a State Senate seat in a district where Trump won by 17 points.

In November, Evers unseated Republican Governor Scott Walker by a one-point margin. In Michigan, Democrat Haley Stevens topped Republican Lena Epstein in a key race to replace retiring Republican Congressmember Dave Trott and Democrat Elissa Slotkin, who was born in New York City, ousted Republican incumbent Mike Bishop in Michigan’s eighth Congressional district.

Also in Michigan, Democrats maintained their grip on a seat that Congressmember John Conyers Jr. held for more than five decades, when Rashida Tlaib replaced him.

Jay Kaplan, who serves as the LGBT legal project attorney for ACLU of Michigan, told Gay City News he hopes the executive order can spark momentum for the campaign to amend the state’s civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity protections.

“It’s a step forward towards achieving LGBT equality in Michigan,” Kaplan said. “We were very happy about this.”

Freedom For All Americans, which is dedicated to advancing nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, praised the executive orders from both governors.

CEO Masen Davis, in written statement, said that “the momentum for LGBTQ nondiscrimination is undeniable” and that “all Americans deserve to know they’ll be treated with dignity and respect in their jobs, their homes, and their communities.”

The ACLU’s local chapter in Wisconsin could not immediately be reached for comment.

Updated 2:42 pm, January 9, 2019
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