Michigan marks 50 years of the civil rights movement, looks ahead to LGBT rights

It’s been 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Lyndon Johnson. And while Michigan has a legacy as a frontrunner in the fight for equal rights, state officials say there are still areas and issues that need to be addressed.

In 1963 Michigan became the first state in the nation to create a civil rights commission. That was a year before the landmark national Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, was signed into law.

Leslee Fritz of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights said the reason for the laws is not something many people growing up today can understand.

“Many of us don’t remember a world where individuals had to deal with signs in the window that said ‘No Women Need Apply’ or ‘Whites Only,’” Fritz said. “That’s not a world that many of us grew up in.”

She said the current debate over LGBT rights echoes the 1960s battles for equality.

“Most people are surprised to hear that in Michigan today, it is still completely legal to fire a person, to deny them a job, to deny them an apartment, to turn them away from a hotel or a restaurant because of their perceived sexual orientation,” she said.

Fritz says she feels momentum is growing for LGBT non-discrimination legislation in Lansing among several groups, including many large employers and chambers of commerce who she says see this as an economic issue.

She says she hopes to see a bill introduced before the end of the year.