Human Rights Campaign Michigan Field Organizer Allison VanKuiken who was one of the organizers of the One Royal Oak Campaign. BTL photo: Crystal Proxmire

ENDA Lobbying Comes to Michigan

By Crystal A. Proxmire

"We need to live in a country where you can get married on a Friday and not have to worry about being fired on Monday."

The sentiment was shared by Human Rights Campaign Michigan Field Organizer Allison VanKuiken at the ENDA campaign kick-off event March 17 at Affirmations.

ENDA is the Employment Non Discrimination Act that would provide protection for LGBT people against employment discrimination across the country, and HRC is lobbying to make it happen.

The bill has already passed in the U.S. Senate and has more than enough bi-partisan votes to pass in the House. But a procedural rule means that Speaker of the House John Boehner can prevent the matter from coming to the floor for a vote. In this case, VanKuiken said, Republican leadership is scared.

"We're told that they won't take the vote until after the primaries, so it could happen in August or they may even hold it until November," she said. VanKuiken explained that when Republicans come out in favor of any pro-LGBT measures, far-right conservatives come after them with opponents in primary races.

HRC has identified key Republican leaders to lobby, including Michigan's U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township. Miller voted for ENDA in 2007 and has also supported other pro-women legislation in the past. HRC is hoping to convince her to help clear the way for a vote. Miller can be reached through her website

Over 30 people attended the meeting to learn how to get involved in the lobbying effort.

Shannon Salk of Ferndale was among the volunteers. "I think from my perspective everyone deserves the dignity of a job," she said. "It's irresponsible not to pass this in the kind of economy we have. I have a friend who has been impacted by discrimination, so I know how important it is." She said her friend had been harassed at work by a co-worker for being gay, and when they reported it to a manager, the manager fired them both.

The fight for employment protection is happening at federal, state and local levels. ENDA would mean everyone in the United States would have protection.

At the state level there is a push to amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity by the Unity Michigan coalition. The current law protects people on the basis of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight and marital status. Elliott-Larsen includes not only employment discrimination protections, but also housing and public accommodations protections.

Historically Republican leadership in Michigan has not been inclined to amend Elliott-Larsen to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Individual communities have enacted local human rights ordinances to try and provide some protections. Thirty-two cities and townships across Michigan have local nondiscrimination ordinances, including Detroit, Lansing, Ann Arbor, Ferndale, Royal Oak, and Muskegon as of Feb. 25.

VanKuiken was one of the organizers of the One Royal Oak Campaign which got a local human rights ordinance passed in the city just last year. After her work on that successful campaign, HRC offered her a job leading the lobbying effort in Michigan to help pass ENDA.

The work involves coordinating volunteers to work phone banks out of Affirmations. They will call HRC members in Miller's District to ask them if they would contact Miller urging her to support ENDA. "We want to show Candice Miller that people who live in her district want this," VanKuiken said. "It's the easiest phone banking we've done because we're calling HRC members who we already know support our work. But we still need to make thousands of calls."

Lobbying efforts also include identifying pro-equality corporations asking them to express their support, showing support within Miller's constituency, and building up grassroots awareness of the issue.

"There is a tremendous amount of support for this in the GOP. They have family and friends that are gay. Most support it but they have 30 percent of them that are a vocal minority that they don't know how to deal with," VanKuiken said.

For more information on the fight for ENDA, visit

To learn more about Unity Michigan visit

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