Mich. House Legislation Could Gut Local Human Rights Ordinances

By Todd Heywood

LANSING - In a one upsmanship with the state Senate, a group of 20 Republican lawmakers in the House have introduced an even more draconian piece of legislation revolving around access to bathrooms.

The new legislation, introduced late last Thursday and referred to the House Oversight Committee, would require people to use restrooms in any government facility that corresponds with their gender as recorded on their state identification card. In other words, a transwoman who has not yet reached a point where she can legally change her gender marker on her license would be required to use public restrooms at any government building corresponding to her gender assigned at birth, not her gender identity.

The legislation defines bathrooms subject to the act as those owned and operated by schools, colleges, universities, city, township, county and state governments. The Senate legislation introduced May 25 only addresses use of bathrooms in K-12 facilities.

Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan's LGBT Project, said the law is very similar to North Carolina's recently enacted legislation. That law caused a firestorm across the country earlier this year, and last month resulted in the Obama administration filing a federal lawsuit against the state to rescind millions of dollars in federal funding.

Federal courts and the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Education have consistently found in favor of transgender students excluded from using bathrooms and other offerings from public entities based on their gender identity.

"It's very serious," Kaplan said, noting if the legislation were to be passed and signed into law it constitutionality would most certainly be challenged. He said he would also expect federal action against the state in such a situation as well.

Supporters of such bills across the country argue the legislation is necessary to protect the privacy of women and children. Kaplan said that is untrue.

"It does nothing to protect anyone's privacy," he said.

Kaplan noted that backlash to North Carolina's law included economic impacts from businesses who withdrew developments and conferences. He indicated passage of this law in Michigan could impact "the economic well-being of our state."

The House bill would also gut local human rights ordinances, like the one passed by the Lansing City Council in 2006 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression.

Lansing City Council woman Carol Wood, who chairs an Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity which is reviewing and updating Lansing's ordinance condemned the legislation.

"Now the State of Michigan is looking at passing legislation that could nullify the very essence of what the City adopted in 2006," said Wood. "We are a community that has embraced and accepted our differences; where now you have the State willing to promote and legalize bigotry."

"It is unfortunate that members of the Michigan House are attempting to legislate a problem that does not exist," said Amy Hunter, director of the ACLU's Trangender Advocacy Project. "That this bill has been introduced reflects a basic misunderstanding on Rep. Runestad's part of what gender identity is. The fact is that transgender women are women and transgender men are men, period. Barring trans people from using public restrooms and other facilities is the very definition of discrimination and would effectively exclude them from participating in public life."

The bill's sponsors include a who's who of radical anti-gay politicians. Among them: Gary Glenn (R-Midland), president of the American Family Association of Michigan and author of Michigan's Marriage Amendment. Glenn has a long history of attacking the LGBT community, including refusing to refer to transwomen by their choosen names, instead deliberately misgendering them. Thomas Hooker, a Republican from Byron Center (which incidentally has a dark history of antigay animus which resulted in the firing of a gay high school teacher, Gerry Crane, who ultimately died of a heart attack), introduced legislation in 2011 which would ban state funding for gender reassignment surgery for persons incarcerated in the state's prisons. Levering Republican Lee Chatfield knocked Petosky Republican Frank Foster out in a primary last summer -- in part because Foster had backed a weak piece of legislation which would have extended Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect on the basis of sexual orientation. Foster refused to include gender identity in his legislation, and his bill ultimately died in committee without a vote. Chatfield, who was the darling of right wing political types like Jack Hoogendyk and Dave Agema, has since come under fire when it was revealed his wife had an abortion. Chatfield and his wife are both staunch pro-lifers.

The legislation was introduced late Thursday afternoon by State Reps. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake), Hooker (R-Byron Center), Gary Howel (R-North Branch)l, Glenn (R- Midland), Triston Cole (R- Mancelona), Chatfield (R-Levering), Joel Johnson (R-Clare), Bruce Rendon (R-Lake City), Pat Somerville (R-New Baltimore), Tom Barrett (R-Potterville), Hank Vaupel (R- Fowlerville), Jim Tedder (R-Clarkston), Aaron Miller (R-Sturgis), Nancy Jenkins (R-Clayton), Ray Franz (R-Onekama), Ken Goike (R-Ray Township), Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw Township), Lana Theis (R-Brighton), Phil Potvin (R-Cadillac) and Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Township).


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