WXMI — After failing to show support for amendments to the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act as speaker of the Michigan House, Lee Chatfield is telling FOX 17 he will support it in his new role as CEO of a large privately funded economic development organization.
Chatfield was recently appointed CEO of the organization after the 32-year-old reached his term limit in Lansing. He was part of the state House of Representatives for six years and served as Speaker of the House and Speaker pro tempore for four of those years.
But this week, the Kalamazoo City Commissioners voted to withdraw its membership – and $10,000 commitment to Southwest Michigan First – citing Chatfield’s past reluctance to support amendments to the Elliott-Larsen Act that would’ve prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Michigan the same as it does for race, religion, age and a number of other factors.
“Of course I was saddened to hear of the withdrawal of partnership between us and the city,” speaking to FOX 17 via Zoom on Wednesday.
Chatfield noted his first act as CEO was to update the Southwest Michigan First handbook to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in their hiring process.
“When I became CEO and began looking at the handbook - actually became aware that sexual orientation and gender identity were not included in the handbook as items that would not be used as discrimination in our hiring process. And that was brought to light through the communication and the outreach of the city of Kalamazoo,” he said. “We took it as, ‘How can we do better? How can we build bridges?… How can we ensure that every single person in our community is treated fairly.’”
It’s unclear if the city will re-enter their funding after the group made that change. Kalamazoo County is reportedly also considering pulling their $75,000 in funding to the group.
“In a public policy role, was there a difficulty in trying to ensure that everyone’s personal religious and civil liberties were all protected all at once? It was difficult, and we were unable sometimes to reach a consensus on that,” said Chatfield. “But I will tell you this, in this new company I’m going to represent the constituency and the values of Southwest Michigan First, and they believe in supporting an effort to amend the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
When pressed on why he didn’t support the amendments when he held a policy-making role, Chatfield responded:
“The question was never – for many different people on the right, let’s say, or people within the religious community – was never ‘should there be discrimination?’ It’s ‘what is the role of government in that decision?’” said Chatfield. “Now, I’m no longer in a public policy role, and I will let the politicians in Lansing and D.C. continue to have those debates and conversations, but as a part of Southwest Michigan First, our stance is that we support amending the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity.”