'Gay? You're Fired!' campaign targets employment discrimination

UNITY Michigan website uses humor to highlight serious issue

by Zach Childree

A coalition of Michigan pro-gay groups announced the start of a new campaign on Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day, to bring attention to the inequality in Michigan anti-discrimination laws.

"We want to warn Michiganders that coming out may cost them their jobs," said Jon Hoadley, director of the UNITY Michigan Coalition. "Our state still does not protect gay and transgender people from employment discrimination."

UNITY Michigan is a coalition of 6 pro-equality groups including Affirmations Community Center, ACLU of Michigan, Equality Michigan, KICK, The Michigan Roundatable for Diversity and Inclusion and the Ruth Ellis Center. The "Don't Change Yourself, Change The Law" campaign uses a humorous approach to point out that, in Michigan, people can be fired for being gay or even being suspected of being gay. Denise Brogan-Kator, Executive Director at Equality Michigan said the campaign centers around the idea that it is ridiculous that a man can lose his job for wearing a pink shirt or a woman can lose her job for wearing a backpack."Our campaign offers tongue-in-cheek tips on how to look 'not gay' at work. It's a humorous take on the extremes someone may have to go to to keep their job," Brogan-Kator said.

Dave Garcia, Executive Director of Affirmations, said that while employment discrimination is a serious matter, the hope is that the use of humor can spur the conversation. "We are certainly not trying to make light of the fact that gay people can be fired," Garcia said. "I certainly didn't find it funny when I was fired for being gay. The focus [of the campaign] was that the absurdity of the law is so ridiculous that we felt humor would be the best way to go to reach the audience we're trying to reach."

Hoadley acknowledges that there are a lot of issues facing LGBT people in Michigan but the time to address employment discrimination is now.

"There are a ton of really important issues out there affecting LGBT folks," Hoadley said. "People are doing amazing work. But, we chose non discrimination protection because it impacts every Michigander, it's an issue whose time is overdue."

Hoadley said that non-discrimination policies are an issue that is gaining a lot of traction in a way for grassroots activists to get involved on a local level. Brogan-Kator pointed out that states where full LGBT equality is more of a reality started with employment non-discrimination legislation.

"One of the things that resonates with the majority of Americans is the right of everybody to be able to work, to be able to engage in the stream of commerce, to be able to provide housing, healthcare and food for their families." Brogan-Kator said. "It goes to the core value of America."

While there is no particular legislation in the legislature which would remedy this issue right now, Hoadley said that Unity Michigan hopes to raise awareness about the issue in order to prepare the way for a solution. "Currently we want to be able to work with Michigan House Speaker James Bolger on finding an appropriate solution," Hoadley said. "The key point about this campaign is to say 'we know that the problem is that discrimination occurs and we want to find the most appropriate way to make sure that gay and transgender folks are protected in the law.'"

The website features downloadable wallpapers and posters which suggest ways in which an employee can appear "Not Gay". The site also features stories from those, including Affirmations Executive Director Dave Garcia, who have been fired in Michigan for coming out at work.

"If you're good at your job, that should be the only thing that matters," Brogan-Kator said. "Don't change yourself, change the law!"

You can find more information about the campaign at http://www.dontchangeyourself.com along with links to UNITY Michigan.
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