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50Years of MDCR #4: Mel Larsen…LGBT Protection…

50Years of MDCR #4: Mel Larsen Speaks on Adding LGBT Protection to Civil Rights Act (video)essential

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Sept. 26, 2014)


The Elliott-Larsen Act of 1976 is regarded as the most comprehensive state-level Civil Rights Act in the nation. It defines civil rights, prohibits discriminatory practices based upon religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status, and it established the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. It also protects people’s privacy in regard to arrest, detention and other disposition in which a New Harvest Homes NHHconviction does not result.

Over the years it has grown to include height, weight, and job protection for pregnant women. Another expansion is on the horizon as well, with bipartisan discussions to add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

Mel Larsen, co-author of the Act and former Chairperson of the Republican Party (1979-1981), was a panel moderator for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights’ 50 Year Anniversary Symposium held at Wayne State University Law School’s Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights on Sept. 19, 2014. While Larson was not a speaker at the symposium, he did answer questions on the subject of expanding the Act.

oc115: What do you think of the move to amend Elliott-Larsen to include LGBT protections?Jim Shaffer KELLER ad black

Larsen: It’s really hard to comment on that. I will tell you what I have said from the beginning. Sexual orientation discussion/debate is long overdue. The legislature had the responsibility to introduce it, to get it into committee, to hold hearings and let everybody come in and talk about it.

I know they are at opposite poles about it right now, and the only way that you’re going to reach an agreement or compromise is to get all the information out, get it discussed and go from there.

oc115: What are some of the struggles you had when you first introduced the act?

Larsen: We had the handicappers who weren’t included. And the gays weren’t included in the bill. And so, in seed017_darlene_bignottifact, we introduced it in ’74 and then waited until we passed the disabilities or physically challenged bills. When that happened we moved forward.

People forget that the Civil Rights bill was originally about being black, and that was the focus, and justifiably so. Now in a more complex world we have a lot of Asians, a lot of Arabs. We have the largest Arab population in the country. We have the second largest Chaldean population. The Asians, Indians, now the Mexicans coming in greater numbers than they were before. It’s presented problems so it’s an ongoing, evolving issue. So sexual orientation is just one of them that is long overdue.

oc115: How does it feel seeing something you did all these years ago growing constantly since you’ve done it?

Larsen: The legislation has been good for the citizens of Michigan. It has worked. It gives citizens a place to MBREW draft onego to air their grievances to find out if its valid and it doesn’t cost them anything to do that. And they still have the choice if they don’t like what the Civil Rights [Commission] tells them, they can take it to court.

More people should probably read the bill and see what’s in there. But it’s very well-written and so I’m glad to see that it is still working. I think that the department is sorely underfunded and understaffed. They do a yeoman’s job on very limited resources. And when you listen through this seminar to all the things that need to be faced and done, it says legislation should also step up and greatly fund the Civil Rights Department.

oc115: What prompted you to do this [act] in the first place?

Larsen: I think that we had the Civil Rights movement started in the 60s. Slavery has been a burden to this country since day one. …I was teaching in the Catholic schools at the time, and in Pontiac we went through the Reid_Sally_115anti-busing, we went through the burnings. Hispanics were not recognized by the city. I can give you a whole list. I mean, the time was right. There was no reason not to do it. Plus the Feds had done it, and we modeled the bill after the Federal bill. So, I mean, it all made sense.

As I said, it doesn’t take much to be nice to people. I don’t care what your bias is, you don’t have a right to act out.


Over the next couple of weeks, the Oakland County 115 News Hub will share video and stories from the symposium in our series: 50 Years of MDOC.

Learn more about the MDCR at

Learn more about the Keith Center at

For other stories in this series see:

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