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Cawley and Rice: Expanding civil rights is good for Michigan's economy

Lisa Cawley and Misti Rice

Michigan has finally added LGBTQ+ rights to the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. This move is not only morally right, but also fiscally smart. As our state continues to attract and grow in-demand jobs to compete in the global market for talent, we must welcome, include and protect a broadly diverse workforce needed to fill these growing job opportunities. Our state’s economic security depends on ensuring equity and freedom from discrimination for all who work, study, live and raise families here.

Elliott-Larsen is Michigan’s civil rights law prohibiting discrimination in employment, education, housing and public accommodations. Since Elliott-Larsen previously did not explicitly name discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, individuals from the LGBTQ+ community had no concrete protections against discrimination in employment, housing, public spaces and services and education simply because of who we love or how we present our true, authentic selves.

Professions across Michigan are being rocked by aging workforces with precious few young people coming in to replace them. This Elliott-Larsen expansion represents Michigan taking action to protect our diverse younger generations and stop losing them to places where they can find acceptance and prosperity.

We are both Michiganians by choice, and when each of our families decided whether to make Michigan our home, we had to consider where in the state would be the safest place for us to live and raise children. We were able to make those decisions about where to live thanks to our jobs with large, global, supportive employers who prioritize diversity and anti-discrimination policies, with the economic security and financial stability that allow us to choose anywhere to live. Many LGBTQ+ people in Michigan do not have these protections.

By adding LGBTQ+ rights into our state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, real and meaningful impact is afforded to our own families and for the LGBTQ+ community across the state. It also signals to those outside the state that Michigan is a welcoming, accepting and safe place. We use the word safe intentionally because every person deserves to be economically, physically, and emotionally safe. The ability to live openly, safely and free from discrimination should not be a product of luck or privilege. Now, because of codifying sexual orientation and gender identity into our civil rights law, that protection is afforded to every LGBTQ+ person in Michigan.

We want to celebrate Michigan’s actions to attract, retain, and remove barriers for all people who want to work, study, live, and raise families in Michigan — all of which help us further bolster our continued economic growth. Broader civil rights mean broader economic security for our families, our communities and our state.

Lisa Cawley and Misti Rice are commissioners on the Michigan Women’s Commission. The commission's work includes reviewing the status of women in Michigan, directing attention to critical problems confronting women, and recognizing women’s contributions to Michigan. To learn more about the Michigan Women’s Commission, go to