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Michigan

Mich. becomes 22nd state to ban conversion therapy

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed bill on Wednesday

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on July 26, 2023, signed House Bills 4616 and 4617, introduced by state Reps. Felicia Brabec and Jason Hoskins, into law, officially prohibiting state-licensed providers from engaging in so-called conversion therapy with minors. (Photo courtesy of Whitmer's office/Facebook)

By Anna Liz Nichols | LANSING, Mich. – A ban on conversion therapy for minors was signed into law in Michigan Wednesday in the latest development of the new Democratic-led state Legislature’s push for LGBTQ rights in Michigan.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a news release Wednesday that as the mother of a gay daughter, she is grateful to have the opportunity to make the state a more welcoming place to live for everyone’s children.

“Today, we are banning the horrific practice of conversion therapy in Michigan and ensuring this is a state where you can be who you are,” Whitmer said. “Let’s continue working together to ensure anyone can ‘make it’ in Michigan, expand fundamental freedoms, and fight back against any and all forms of discrimination.”  

The legislation, House Bill 4616 and House Bill 4617, effectively bars mental health professionals from seeking to alter a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or risk facing disciplinary action that could result in the loss of their professional licenses.

The legislation does not prohibit the practice of gender-affirming care or support during exploration of gender or sexuality or counseling to prevent unsafe relationship practices.

There is no evidence that conversion therapy works, but there is evidence that shows it is dangerous to children, bill sponsor Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Township), who is also a clinical psychologist, said in the news release from the governor’s office and in her testimony on the House floor in June.

“I am acutely aware that kids need to be free to express themselves without the fear or threat of damaging pseudo-psychology like conversion therapy. With the support of several mental health organizations throughout our state and nation, I can confidently say that this law will help to ensure that therapists like myself continue to do no harm in our practices, while protecting the LGBTQ youth in our state,” Brabec said.

Proponents of banning conversion therapy say legislation like what’s being implemented in Michigan prevents suicide.

When Whitmer signed an executive order in 2021 banning the use of state and federal funds being used for conversion therapy on minors, the Trevor Project, a non-profit group working to create a safer environment for LGBTQ kids, applauded the action. The Trevor Project added at the time that a 2020 report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth who experienced conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the last year than their peers who hadn’t been in conversion therapy.

Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan, which works to reach out and advocate for LGBTQ Michiganders, said, “today is a good day” because the ban is a win for Michigan against the “torture” of conversion therapy.

‘The practice is inherently discriminatory, they are cruel, inhumane and degrading treatments that, depending on the severity, physical or mental pain, the suffering inflicted on a victim oftentimes amounts to torture,” Knott said. “This is just one step in terms of mitigating torture and trauma to our kids as well as letting them know or giving them a signal that they are loved and supported and valued as they are, there’s no need to attempt to change them for who they are or how they identify.”

The ban is part of several LGBTQ rights measures considered this term after Democrats have the majority in both chambers in the state legislature for the first time in nearly 40 years. The state’s 1976 civil rights laws got an update in March when Whitmer signed into law legislation to extend protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation

Currently, expansions to the state’s hate crime laws, which would add protections for abuses suffered by individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are making their way through the Legislature.

The legislation signed Wednesday creates penalties for licensed mental health professionals, but doesn’t address unlicensed professionals who perform conversion therapy, including religious leaders providing conversion therapy with no mental health care licensure.

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Michigan

Mich. governor signs statewide LGBTQ rights law

‘Bigotry is bad for business’

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 16, 2023, signed an LGBTQ rights bill into law. (Photo courtesy of Whitmer's office)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act on Thursday, which expands basic protections for the LGBTQ community.

The measure, Senate Bill 4, was sponsored by openly gay state Sen. Jeremy Moss who less than a year previously had been shot down by the Republican majority as he attempted to have a non-binding resolution to recognize “Pride Month” adopted by the Senate.

In her signing remarks, Whitmer noted: “In the words of Detroit native Lizzo, it’s about damn time! Bigotry is bad for business. Come to Michigan, you will be respected and protected under the law.”

“As Equality Michigan celebrates this historic step forward, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Generations of activists have inspired us to fight for justice and equality for all LGBTQ+ Michiganders, and our community has been working to update our state’s civil rights law to explicitly include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in every single legislative session since Elliott-Larsen was first adopted,” Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott said in a statement. “We applaud Gov. Whitmer for signing this bill into law, and are humbled by this pro-equality legislature that made amending ELCRA a top priority. Senator Jeremy Moss and Rep. Jason Hoskins introduced this legislation and championed it all the way through to the finish line.” 

“The victory we have today in Michigan is a great one, but it’s also one we don’t take lightly at this moment. Let it not be lost on us that this privilege, however hard-earned, is a unique one that exists amid a nationwide political assault on LGBTQ+ people, especially trans and non-binary youth, and their families,” added Knott. “There are over 400 anti-trans bills moving across state legislatures in the US, twice the amount introduced last year.”

“This bill being signed into law is a beacon of hope and sends a powerful message of acceptance to LGBTQ people across the nation. At the Trevor Project, we work every day to protect the lives of LGBTQ youth, and days like today prove that in generations to come, both their legal and lived equality will no longer be fodder for political debate,” said Troy Stevenson, director of state advocacy campaigns for the Trevor Project. “Our research shows that having at least one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ young people by 40 percent. We applaud the elected leaders, advocates and Gov. Whitmer for making this a reality, and affirming the dignity and rights of LGBTQ Michiganders by codifying these protections into law.”

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Michigan

Mich. man arrested for threats against LGBTQ community, Biden

Federal authorities arrested Randall Robert Berka on March 9

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

A Michigan man was arrested and charged in a criminal complaint with illegally possessing firearms after having been committed to a mental institution and while being an unlawful user of a controlled substance.

The man came to the attention of the FBI after he made numerous threats over YouTube to kill FBI agents, members of the LGBTQ community, President Joe Biden and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.    

The arrest was announced U.S. Attorney Dawn N. Ison. who joined in the announcement by James A. Tarasca, special agent in charge of the FBI Detroit Field Office.

According to the criminal complaint, Randall Robert Berka II, 30, of Sebewaing, Mich., was illegally in possession of four firearms, three long guns and a pistol, after he had been committed to a mental institution and while he was a daily user of marijuana. Berka also was in possession of ammunition and body armor. 

The firearms were previously purchased for Berka by a relative who now feared that his mental health treatment was not working and was scared of Berka. The relative cooperated with FBI agents in securing the complaint.

The Detroit Free-Press reported:

“The case involves a 30-year-old Sebawaing resident named Randall Robert Berka II, whose mother bought him three long guns and a pistol over the last year despite his history of mental illness. He was involuntarily committed for mental health treatment in 2012 and declared legally incapacitated by the state of Michigan, which prohibited him from owning a gun, according to the criminal complaint.

The mother, however, eventually feared her son’s mental health treatment was not working and grew scared of him — so much so that she cooperated with the FBI in securing criminal charges against her son this week, authorities said.”

The complaint further provides that Berka came to the attention of the FBI after Google reported to the agency that Berka was posting various threats on YouTube. Among other statements, Berka posted the following: “I’m going to kill these Democrats. Biden deserves to die,” “I’m gonna kill LGBT freaks,” “You could be like me and get guns and threaten to kill politicians. I’m more than willing to kill Whitmer and I do live in Michigan,” “I’ll assault her … with my bullets” and “I buy guns though and plot to kill people.”

The FBI arrested Berka at his residence March 9. He will make his initial appearance in U.S. District Court today in Bay City, Mich. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will be asking the court to hold Berka in pretrial detention because of his danger to the community and the risk that he will flee.         

“We will take immediate action when we learn of individuals illegally possessing firearms and threatening to harm or kill others,” said Ison. “I applaud Google’s vigilance in this matter, and we hope members of the community will, likewise, pay attention and report such conduct to law enforcement.”

“This defendant’s actions were very alarming,” said Tarasca. “When free speech crosses a line and becomes a threat of violence against another — aggravated by the illegal possession of firearms — the full investigative resources of the FBI will be brought to bear. As always, we encourage the public to be vigilant and report concerning behavior to the FBI and local law enforcement.”

Berka faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. 

The case is being investigated by FBI special agents and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Vance.

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Michigan

Mich. House passes landmark LGBTQ rights bill

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer expected to sign measure

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(Bigstock photo)

The Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act, Senate Bill 4, has passed in both the Michigan House Judiciary Committee and in the state’s House of Representatives on Wednesday. This bill would expand statewide nondiscrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The bill now heads to the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk, where it is expected to be signed into law, making it the first time in more than three years since any U.S. state has passed similar nondiscrimination protections. 

Once signed, Michigan will become the 22nd state to codify nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

In an email, Equality Michigan, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, lauded the action by lawmakers noting:

“For our community, today is a day of triumph and a day of relief. The Michigan Legislature is sending a loud and clear bipartisan message: LGBTQ+ people are entitled to the same dignity, rights and protections as all Michiganders.

Equality Michigan and its predecessors have fought for decades to bring the LGBTQ+ community under the protection of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. Generations of courageous community leaders and grassroots organizing created the path forward, and we are proud that today, history has been made.”

“It is with great enthusiasm that I celebrate Michigan’s vital step toward equality and justice for all,” said Buzz Thomas, chair of Equality Michigan and former Senate Democratic Floor Leader.

“Today’s passing of the amendment to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act will help ensure future generations of LGBTQ+ youth and their families, that they will have a fair opportunity to earn a living, feel safe in their communities, and have access to the necessities one needs to build a better life. This is something everyone in our state deserves.”

“Today is a big step for equality and sends a powerful message to LGBTQ+ Michiganders that discrimination has no home in our state. Michigan now joins alongside 21 other states who have sent this same message to their own LGBTQ communities and codified these protections into law,” said Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott. “Today’s victory would not have been possible without years of hard work from generations of courageous leaders. We are witnessing a sea change toward equality, bringing us closer to a future where everyone is treated equally under the law, no matter our gender, the color of our skin, how we worship, or who we love.”

“LGBTQ people — like all people — deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and to live life free from discrimination. By codifying nondiscrimination protections into state law, Michigan brings us one step closer to creating a society where LGBTQ young people never have to fear being turned away from a business or told they cannot participate in an activity or enter a public space just because of who they are or who they love,” said Trevor Project Advocacy Campaign Manager Gwen Stembridge. “We thank and honor the years of hard work of our fellow advocates, community leaders, and partners like Equality Michigan, who led the way to where we are today. Amid the ongoing legislative attacks on LGBTQ communities, especially trans youth, this proactive law is a beacon of hope and optimism.”

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