Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, speaks during a press conference on Sept. 25. BTL Photo: Andrew Cohen

More Than 100 Businesses Support the Equality Act

Michigan-Based Companies Dow, Kellogg and Whirlpool Sign On to LGBTQ Anti-Discrimination Bill

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin announced that HRC's Buinsess Coalition for the Equality Act has reached a milestone with support from over 100 major American businesses during a press conference held at the Detroit Regional Chamber offices in downtown Detroit on Monday.

Launched in March 2016, the coalition includes 105 companies with operations in all 50 states, headquarters spanning 23 states, and a collective revenue of $2.6 trillion. In total, these companies employ more than 5.8 million people across the U.S.

"The Equality Act will once and for all end this unacceptable patchwork - this crazy quilt of non-discrimination laws across the country that put far too many in our community at risk," said Griffin pointing to 31 states where LGBTQ people remain at risk of being fired, evicted or denied services because of who they are.

"Unlike a lot of legislation that rolls through the halls of Congress, this bill is actually really simple. It would finally ensure that gender identity and sexual orientation are protected under our long-standing federal civil rights laws right alongside race, religion, sex and national origin. That's why the Equality Act enjoys the overwhelming bipartisan support of the American public," he said.

Polling released last year by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that support for a bill like the Equality Act topped 70 percent nationally, including a majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents. PRRI's groundbreaking survey included 42,000 interviews in 50 states and found majority support for the Equality Act in all 50 states.

First introduced in 2015 by Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) and by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), the Equality Act is currently co-sponsored by 241 members of Congress.

"If the leadership would allow a vote, I truly believe that this coalition would win that vote in the Senate today. But where it stands today, the leadership in the House and the Senate have thus far refused to have a vote on the Equality Act," said Griffin. "We intend to keep building the momentum, to continue to support and promote lawmakers and members of Congress in the House and Senate who support the Equality Act and make it a priority. During the midterm elections, HRC will work very hard to defeat those who stand in the way of equality."

Like Michigan's Attorney General Bill Schuette who "notably stuck his neck out again last week to thwart the advancement of LGBT rights and has made it very clear throughout his political career that is he opposed to our equality," said Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan.

Schuette announced his run for governor this month to replace the term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder, who "hasn't pushed forward the agenda he has said that he is open to and he hasn't pushed forward what we would like him to do," said White, noting that "he has set a tone that he wants to be more inclusive and talk about these issues, at least."

Stephanie White, executive director for Equality Michigan on Sept. 25 stands with corporate leaders and in league with companies that know taking a stand for equality helps grow their businesses. BTL Photo: Andrew Cohen

White said that passing the Equailty Act nationally will help Michigan achieve two of the goals that Gov. Snyder has articulated that members of the LGBTQ community share.

"One, rebuilding the overall population of our state - eliminate the reasons why people leave - and two, address the growing talent crisis in filling our most in demand jobs."

EQMI takes on about a dozen new cases each month involving people who have survived awful discrimination or violence simply for who they are or who they love.

"Not only is this morally wrong, but it's also self-defeating for our shared goals of creating a vibrant economy that works for everyone and an America that lives up to the values of honoring hard work," said White.

EQMI has been working to correct this problem in Michigan for decades.

"At first we were told that we couldn't enact discrimination laws because it would kill businesses. Well today I'm happy to put that lie to rest with these partners and others."

White joined Griffin with Kevin Heard, president of the Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce; Cory Valente, LGBTQ ERG Global Leader for Dow Chemical Co.; and Willard McCloud, chief diversity officer of Cargill, Inc..

Dow Chemical Co. was one of the first companies to join the coalition, according to Ianthe Metzger, state and local press secretary for the HRC.

"Their leadership really helped build the momentum of corporate support for this legislation," she said, adding that they wanted to celebrate this milestone in a city that has a long standing commitment to LGBTQ equality.

"That's exactly the case with Detroit which understands that inclusion drives innovation and attracts top talent. Overall, Michigan is also a critically important state to the legacy of corporate America."

When asked about religious freedom and how that might impact doing business with everyone, Griffin said, "The First Amendment is alive and well in this country. Religious freedom is a bedrock principle of this country. It's really important. That's why it's the First Amendment to our constitution. There are some in this country with extreme views who oppose equality of any kind who would try to use and abuse religion and religious freedom to their own cynical and political benefit."

Specifically, as it relates to businesses - stores, restaurants, bakeries and so forth - Griffin said, "In this country, when you open a business to serve the public, you are to serve the public. You don't get to pick and choose based on race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. You are there to serve the public. That is also a bedrock principle in this country. It's a struggle that we have seen throughout our history. This country has also in each and every one of those struggles come down on the side of equality and justice for all."

Major corporations in Michigan that are a part of the coalition include the Dow Chemical Co. in Midland, the Kellogg Co. in Battle Creek and Whirlpool Corp. in Benton Harbor. View the full list of leading employers that support the passage of the Equality Act here.

For those that have not yet joined the coalition, Heard said, "To the manufacturing, utility, logistics and automotive industry here in Michigan - you hold true influence in this region. We invite you to join the LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce as well as the HRC as you employ many of our residents with many talents, religions, racial backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities. When you are in full support of this legislation, you will amplify the voice of this community, this country and the world. We will all be closer together and better together."

Visit the Human Rights Campaign website at http://www.hrc.org/.
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