KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The Kalamazoo City Commissioners voted to withdraw from its membership with Southwest Michigan First on Monday following its decision to hire fromer Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield.
In an unanimous vote, commissioners cited Chatfield’s record on LGBTQ rights and whether it aligned with the city’s goals. They also questioned Chatfield’s lack of professional economic development experience and ties to the area.
“It goes against what our community values when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Commissioner Erin Knott.
Knott, who is also the executive director for Equality Michigan, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, introduced the motion.
“The decision made by Southwest Michigan First last week gives us a pause, or at least gives me a moment of pause,” said Knott.
Chatfield served in the House for six years before being term limited in 2020. Prior to his election, Chatfield worked as an athletic director and teacher at Northern Michigan Christian Academy in Burt Lake.
While in office, Chatfield opposed efforts to expand the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity, citing religious freedom.
“If you want to maintain a quality workforce, attract workers to join a particular corporation, big or small, we need to have an inclusive environment,” said Knott. “That’s well spelled out. If you look in states, like what happened in North Carolina or Indiana when they passed anti-LGBTQ policies, corporations, tourism, all of it suffered.”
In their decision, commissioners said if Southwest Michigan First made changes in the future that the city felt lined up with their focus, Kalamazoo would be willing to continue the partnership.
According to a city spokesperson, Kalamazoo joined the agency in 2016 and pays $10,000 a year to be a member.
Knott says she is speaking with other Council 100 members concerned with Chatfield’s hire and believes the city’s decision will lead to other organizations pulling their funding.
“I want folks to really champion putting pressure on the current legislature to take up bills that will amend Elliot Larson to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression,” said Knott. “These are influencers and leaders within our region that, you know, have powerful positions and they will be instrumental in the movement and the work ahead.”