As the former Mayor Pro Tem of Greenville, Harriette Cook knows a thing or two about what’s at stake should Michigan’s legislature not update the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act this year to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination.
“Michigan is suffering from an exodus of talent,” Harriette said. “There are a lot of multi-talented people leaving the state because” Michigan’s law fails to protect LGBT people.
In fact, Harriette knows two women personally—one in city government and another in education—who have remained in the closet for fear of losing their jobs.
But this isn’t just an abstract issue for Harriette. As the mother of two gay sons, it’s personal, too.
“My husband and I have two gay sons. They do not live in the state of Michigan. Were they to, they would be singled out and not have the same rights as other citizens. Why should they be treated differently? Why should they not be protected as the Elliott-Larsen Bill protects race and gender?”
While both of her children are fully grown and now have families of their own out of state, she wonders if things would have been different had Michigan’s laws been more inclusive, allowing her children to reside in Michigan without the fear of discrimination.
“As a parent, it is inconceivable that our sons would not be able to be who they are, and be employed the way they would want, and live in housing of their choosing without worrying about their security.”
But like many Michiganders, Harriette’s support for equality has come after a years-long journey, which started when her sons came out to her and her husband shortly after they left for college.
“Knowing what I know now and what I have experienced since 1980, I would have been pleased. But then, we were not. They came out about a year apart and we, as substantial members of a small community, were totally undone.”
It would take some time, but eventually Harriette and her husband, as well as the whole community, would come around.
“What a long way we as a people have come in this measured amount of time. Not just my husband and I, but everyone. Our wonderful small town seemed to understand that these young men were who they had watched grow up. They had car pooled, celebrated holidays and shared in their accomplishments. How can this be so horrible? It wasn’t. And how did we go from being stunned and paralyzed to enthusiasm and acceptance? Education.”
“It is so simple once you get the message.” Harriette adds. “These are your children. These are your relatives. These are people.”
And yet, today in Michigan, LGBT people—like Harriette’s two sons— can still be fired, denied housing or refused service at a public institution just because of their perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. By updating the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act with fully inclusive legislation that protects all gay and transgender Michiganders from discrimination, we can ensure that the playing field is leveled for all Michiganders.