BY MADDY O’CALLAGHAN
Capital News Service
LANSING — When Rachel Crandall-Crocker came out as a transgender woman in 1997, she was immediatley fired from her job as a therapist at a small hospital.
Because LGBTQ people aren’t explicitly protected from discrimination under Michigan’s civil rights law, Crandall-Crocker’s employers weren’t liable.
“I received no legal help at all,” Crandall-Crocker said. “But this happens even now. Even today.”
Michigan is one of 29 states that doesn’t specifically protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexuality or gender identity.
“We need to change that, and we need to change it soon, or there will just be more and more cases,” Crandall-Crocker said.
The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act is one of the primary reasons Michigan was listed as a “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality” in the Human Rights Campaign’s 2019 State Equality Index released earlier this year.
Along with a lack of protection from employment, housing and insurance descrimination, the report also cited Michigan laws that allow LGBTQ discrimination in adoption and foster care.
After Crandall-Crocker was fired, she started her own practice as a licenced master’s social worker, where she counsels LGBTQ adults and children. The youngest transgender person she’s helped was 15.
“There’s an awful lot more of us in Michigan than you think,” Crandall-Crocker said.
Along with her therapy practice, she created an organization to educate the public on transgender issues.
In 1997, she started Transgender Michigan, a Ferndale-based organization dedicated to the advancement of transgender people.
“Education will change the conversation,” Crandall-Crocker said. “I believe with unity comes power.”
Her organization also began the first transgender hotline in the nation.
Currently, Transgender Michigan is working with other human rights group to expand the Elliott-Larsen Act to explicitly protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is lobbying to expand the law too.
Jay Kaplan, a LGBT project staff attorney, said that’s the biggest gap in Michigan’s civil rights law.
Kaplan, however, said that progress has been made on the law as it is currently written.
In 2018, the Civil Rights Commission interpreted it as including LGBTQ descrimiation under the categoty of sex discrimination.
However, because the commission’s statement was only interpretive, it’s up to state courts to decide when the issue arises in a case, Kaplan said.
A Michigan case awaiting decision by the U.S. Supreme Court involves a transgender woman, Amiee Stephens, who fired as a funeral director in Garden City because of her gender identity.
Both Kaplan and Crandall-Crocker said a favorable ruling would be a big step forward for LGBTQ rights.
“It will send a message that clearly descimination upon sexuality is discrimination upon sex,” Kaplan said. “We can use the decision to support the idea that this is a form of sex discrimination.”
With the current conservative majority on the Supreme Court, however, they both said they’re wary of a negative ruling.
“We can still try to make that argument in state courts, but opponents will cite what the Supreme Court did and argue that LGBTQ members aren’t covered,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan said that’s why the Legislature needs to expand the Elliott-Larsen Act.
“For 20 years we have been trying to make this case,” Kaplan said. “The problem is that [the Republican] leadership in both the House and Senate won’t even have a hearing. It doesn’t even get to be debated on its merits.”
In addition to job discimination, Kaplan and Crandall-Crocker say expanding the law would discourage violence against LGBTQ people.
“I think often when you pass legislation that says that people are to be treated fairly and with dignity, you also send a message that not only are we not tolerating decrimination, but also acts of violence because of who they are,” Kaplan said.
Violence is one of Crandall-Crocker’s biggest concerns in Michigan, where several transgender people were murdered in recent years.
Crandall-Crocker started Trans Visibility Day 11 years ago to raise awareness about transgender people. This year, the event takes place on Tuesday, March 31.
“I really wanted a day that all the trans people in Michigan could come together and celebrate who we are,” Crandall-Crocker said.
The day is now celebrated and acknowledged globally.
Crandall-Crocker says that’s a huge accomplishment, but not the end of her work.
“I don’t want to paint too much of a rosy picture here,” she said. “There is still a lot of violence and discrimination against trans people, especially towards trans women of color.
“We have so far to go,” she said.