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This state is turning into the anti-Florida

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.) signed landmark legislation this week to protect the state’s LGBTQ community.

In the process, she and her allies sent a message about the kind of state they want Michigan to be and how they hope to fend off the far-right agenda, both inside and outside Michigan’s borders.

The new law compensation the Elliott-Larsen Act, Michigan’s civil rights law, to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In practical terms, that means everything from ensuring landlords can’t turn away LGBTQ tenants to ensuring employers can’t fire workers in same-sex marriages.

Advocates have been trying to get something like this passed for about 40 years. They finally broke through because, in the 2022 election, voters returned Whitmer to office and gave Democrats full control of the legislature. That hasn’t happened since the Reagan era.

The new House and Senate majorities have been working at a breakneck pace. Initiatives they have enacted or are about to pass include a new tax credit for the working poor, the repeal of anti-union legislation, and various initiatives designed to curb gun violence, something that is very much on the minds of residents of Michigan after the February mass shooting at Michigan State University.

Relative to those measures, the LGBTQ amendment will likely have less noticeable impact on everyday life because one version of the protections already exists. In a landmark case last year, the state Supreme Court ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity fell under the Elliott-Larsen legal umbrella even without new language.

But the courts can and do reverse, especially in Michigan, where voters choose justices on the seven-member Supreme Court. Also, putting a statute on the books, as Whitmer and the legislature just did, makes those protections much harder to remove in the future.

And that’s not to mention the symbolic value in a state where attitudes on LGBTQ issues still vary widely, from individual to individual and especially from place to place.

“There are places in Michigan where I’m hesitant to hold my partner’s hand where I’m, you know, more cautious, where I’m not the real me,” Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan, told HuffPost. “This really tells members of the LGBTQ community that they are loved and valued for who they are and that Michigan supports them.”

At Thursday’s signing ceremony, Whitmer echoed that call, acknowledging that not all elected officials and states feel the same way.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer listens to reporters during a press conference on November 7, 2022 in East Lansing, Michigan. The Democrat recently signed landmark legislation to protect the state’s LGBTQ community.

Brandon Bell via Getty Images

Michigan as the anti-Florida

“Right now, there is a nationwide attack on our LGBTQ+ community, especially our trans neighbors, family and friends,” Whitmer said. “There are state legislatures all over the country that are dedicated to legalizing discrimination. It’s dangerous, it’s wrong, and it’s un-American.”

Whitmer didn’t select any states, but it’s not hard to think of a few that qualify. At the top of the list is Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has touted himself as a “woke” mob warrior, an image he hopes will win him the 2024 Republican Party presidential nomination, thereby which seems almost certain. look for.

Like Whitmer, DeSantis just won a landslide re-election and has partisan allies in the legislature passing a series of laws. But the actual content of that legislation is quite different. Instead of passing laws that make it harder to get and carry a gun, DeSantis and Florida Republicans are about to make it easier. Instead of repealing old abortion bans, they are enacting new ones.

And then there’s the GOP agenda to restrict what teachers can say about gender and sexuality, ban books that address such issues and limit gender affirmation treatment. DeSantis and his allies are furious at the suggestion that his agenda is targeted at the LGBTQ community. This defense would be more credible if his substitutes didn’t attack critics by calling them “hairdressers“And if I weren’t giving public commission seats to pastors who call for homosexuality”devil.

“This really tells members of the LGBTQ community that they are loved and valued simply for who they are, and that Michigan stands by them.”

– Erin Knott, Equality Michigan

DeSantis has characterized his agenda as an effort to defend liberal freedom to trample on the rights of religious Americans and gun owners or to indoctrinate vulnerable children. And it’s not just the governor of Florida making this speech. Virtually every GOP presidential contender, including former President Donald Trump himself, uses a version of it in his campaign speeches now.

Whitmer also invoked the cause of liberty on Thursday, but from a very different point of view.

“Michigan is a state where we stand up for people’s fundamental freedoms,” Whitmer said, “whether it’s your freedom to make your own decisions about your body, your freedom to go to school or work without worrying about a mass shooting, or your freedom to be who you are, to love who you love.”

The call for freedom is one that national advocates have been making as well. “What people don’t want is politicians deciding their health care,” Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, told HuffPost on Friday. “They don’t want politicians to tell you where to go to the bathroom, they don’t want politicians to tell you what books to read.”

A play for the center, not for the marginal

The Elliott-Larsen amendment is a Democratic bill signed by a Democratic governor. But Whitmer, in his remarks, emphasized the role Republicans have played in promoting civil rights, now and in the past.

Elliott-Larsen is named after the two former state House members who sponsored it, Democrat Daisy Elliott and Republican Melvin Larsen. Elliott is no longer alive, but Larsen is, and he appeared at the signing ceremony to a standing ovation. Whitmer acknowledged this and then paid tribute to former Gov. William Milliken, a progressive Republican whom Whitmer has frequently cited as a role model for public service.

And just as Whitmer praised the Democratic lawmakers from two states who led the campaign to pass this new amendment, Sen. Jeremy Moss and Rep. Jason Hoskins, she also went out of her way to point out that a handful of Republicans voted for it Good. “These are values ​​that we all share,” Whitmer said.

“Michigan is a state where we stand up for people’s fundamental freedoms.”

– Governor Gretchen Whitmer

This is not the kind of cross-party rhetoric from DeSantis, the Florida Republicans or their counterparts across the country. Instead, they seem much more interested in scoring points with Fox News viewers by making the Democrats the enemy, not just of Republican voters but of America itself. In fact, a Republican lawmaker from Florida recently introduced a stunt bill to effectively remove the Democratic Party from the state.

In Michigan, at least, this appears to be working to the advantage of Whitmer and the Democrats because the right-wing agenda alienates many undecided middle voters, including those who think primarily of economic issues.

One of Whitmer’s favorite lines, which he repeated Thursday, is that “bigotry is bad for business.” Equality Michigan’s Knott and Amritha Venkataraman, Michigan’s state director for the Human Rights Campaign, told HuffPost that various employer groups have been enthusiastic partners in their advocacy efforts because they believe that promising protection from anti-LGBTQ discrimination helps them. to attract talent.

A political question, and also personal

But it’s hard to watch and listen to Michigan Democrats and not see a motive beyond political pragmatism at work.

Although the Elliott-Larsen amendments have taken four decades to enact, the momentum received an additional push last year in response to anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in Michigan politics, and following a speech defending the LGBTQ community. by state. Senator Mallory McMorrow who went viral.

The political effort in support of LGBTQ candidates that followed dovetailed with and bolstered the campaign to protect abortion rights that dominated the 2022 election, leading directly to a Democratic majority that includes not only record numbers of women in top office , but also a record number of publicly LGBTQ members, including House Speaker Pro Tempore Laurie Pohutsky and Attorney General Dana Nessel, who first rose to fame litigating one of the key cases that led to marriage equality nationwide

Nessel spoke at the signing ceremony, recalling the stories of discrimination that have come to her office over the years, and how the new law will make it easier for her to act in the future. She made it clear that, to her, the fight was personal. Whitmer followed suit when she noted that in addition to being a longtime visible ally to the LGBTQ community, she is also the “mother of a proud gay woman.”

Thinking of the four-decade fight to pass the amendment and the resistance advocates who faced it every step of the way, Whitmer quoted Lizzo, a Detroit native and well-known LGBTQ ally: “About time.” She then signed the legislation sitting in front of a pride flag and wearing a Michigan “LOVE” pin on her lapel, once again sending the kind of message DeSantis and other far-right avatars would never send.

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