Businesses leaving Chamber demand inclusion action

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Usually, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce's endorsement of a gubernatorial candidate barely registers on anyone's radar. This year, it's causing members to back out of the organization.

Earlier this week, the Chamber announced its endorsement of Republican candidate Bill Schuette, who is currently the Michigan attorney general. Citing concerns about his stance on LGBT issues, some businesses said Wednesday they were leaving the Chamber. On Thursday, more businesses said they were withdrawing and that they expected more to join.

Bob Johnson is the owner of The Apartment Lounge downtown, one of the state’s oldest gay bars. A member of the Chamber for more than 15 years, Johnson has seen it endorse many Republicans without any blowback. But something changed with the Schuette endorsement.

"I was shocked, a little bit appalled," Johnson said.

He thinks Schuette’s record on equal protections for gay and transgender people makes him unfit to be governor. For many in the LGBTQ community, Schuette’s declaration earlier this summer that anti-discrimination protections in Michigan law do not apply to gay and transgender people was a breaking point.

"We've earned protection, we deserve to have equal rights and that’s not something that I’m willing to jeopardize or say it’s not that important because of his financial agenda," Johnson said.

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