By Joel Engardio, Out & Equal Associate Director of Communications
It’s easy to assume gay Americans have it good each time another state allows same-sex marriage and Ellen’s TV show gets renewed for a new season. From pop-culture to official wedding vows, acceptance of gay people has come a long way.
Yet it’s still perfectly legal to fire someone in 29 states based on sexual orientation — 33 on gender identity. Michigan is one of the states where openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) residents work at their own risk.
That’s why Saginaw, Michigan can’t give up on the LGBT non-discrimination ordinance that was indefinitely postponed by the city council last week. It’s well known you can’t fire someone because of their religion, sex or race, but sexual orientation and gender identity isn’t on the list in most places. This lack of workplace protection means a lot of skilled and qualified people are losing jobs or aren’t getting hired. That hurts everyone because it’s bad for business when companies and cities drive talent away.
Out & Equal Workplace Advocates is the leading organization that champions fully inclusive workplace equality and it is rooting for Saginaw. In fact, three members of Out & Equal’s San Francisco-based staff were born and raised in Saginaw.
Dave Bueche, Tony Talbot and I grew up within walking distance of Bill’s Party Store on Mackinaw Street where we have fond memories of getting summer Slurpees. Bueche and Talbot went to the Catholic high school St. Stephens and I attended the public Arthur Hill High School down the street. Today, Talbot is the chief financial officer at Out & Equal. Bueche serves as a development manager and I’m the associate director of communications.
“I enjoyed growing up in Saginaw despite the fact that I had to hide my sexual orientation from my friends and family,” Bueche said. “There were no resources available at the time to help me address my frustrations and confusion. To learn that this ordinance was even up for a vote in Saginaw is most reassuring.”
Special thanks goes to Saginaw Councilwoman Annie Boensch who had the courage to sponsor the ordinance despite vocal opposition and a lack of existing state or federal protections for LGBT workers in Michigan.
“I don’t see a risk in doing the right thing,” Boensch told the Saginaw News. “I see risk in waiting for our state legislature and congress to act. We need to ensure that people have access to public services and employment no matter what the state and federal government do.”
Hopefully Boensch won’t give up. Eventually, her ordinance will pass. History is on Boensch’s side.
Some good news for Saginaw’s LGBT residents is that major companies like Dow Chemical, headquartered in nearby Midland, are supporting workplace equality where the law falls short. Dow was the first company in the chemical industry to form a LGBT employee resource group.
Out & Equal honored Dow last year with its Workplace Excellence Award, given to companies that prioritize workplace quality for LGBT employees. Previous winners include Google and IBM.
“Respect for all people is core to Dow’s value system and to enabling every employee to feel they are able to reach their full potential,” Dow Executive Vice President Howard Ungerleider said, after receiving Out & Equal’s award. “A diverse company is a source of tremendous advantage, accelerating results and fueling innovation.”
Saginaw and towns across America like it can also experience the benefits of innovation if they only follows what forward-thinking companies are already doing.
Joel Engardio serves as Associate Director of Communications at Out & Equal Workplace Advocates