Businesses leave GR Chamber over Schuette endorsement

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Founders Brewing Co. has joined a growing list of businesses leaving the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce over its endorsement of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette.

Founders decided to terminate its membership with the Chamber after the Grand Rapids Pride Center brought up concerns about Schuette’s stance on LGBT issues.

“We stand with our LGBTQ community and ask that the @GRChamber reverse their decision,” Founders posted on social media Monday afternoon.

The Pride Center cited Schuette’s response to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission’s ruling that the state cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation. The current Michigan attorney general declared the commission’s decision invalid in July when he said the state law does not ban discrimination against LGBT people, and only lawmakers or voters can expand such protections.

Founders’ announcement came hours after The Apartment Lounge, which is Michigan’s oldest LGBTQ bar, announced it was withdrawing its membership from the Chamber. 

“It (Schuette’s endorsement) goes against everything that Milt, Ed and I stand for in creating our safe space,” one of the Apartment co-owners Bob Johnson wrote in a letter to the chamber’s board of directors, which was also posted to Facebook.

“It is great to see Grand Rapids businesses stepping forward to use their influence and position in our community to also speak out against this decision and we encourage others to do so,” said the Pride Center, which announced it would suspend any future partnerships with the Chamber in a Wednesday afternoon tweet.

Donkey Taqueria and The Winchester, which are under the same ownership, were the first to announce they were withdrawing their membership. On Facebook Tuesday afternoon, Donkey Taqueria stated it was “extremely disappointed” by the Chamber’s endorsement decision.

“As a business that employs and serves many this law was enacted to protect, we have ended our long standing relationship with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and encourage other businesses to consider this as well,” the post stated.

The Pride Center encouraged other businesses to join the effort, but invited Chamber staff and board members to connect with them for training and education “as we work to move our region, and state, forward in empowering our LGBTQ community.”

In a Wednesday statement, Chamber President and CEO Rick Baker the organization had heard members’ “frustration and disappointment.”

“We understand our endorsement decisions do not take place in a vacuum and we are open to dialogue to understand the impact of our decisions,” the statement continued in part.

Baker said the Chamber endorsed Schuette “because he aligns most closely with our business-friendly policies.” He added that any money the Chamber’s PAC gives to a campaign doesn’t come from membership dues. All of it, he said, comes from donors.

Baker said the Chamber “remains committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion” and that it was advocating to expand Michigan’s civil rights protections law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The full statement from the Chamber:

“The Grand Rapids Chamber is known as one of the most influential business organizations in Michigan.

“Our influence comes in part from our engagement in the difficult and controversial work of endorsing candidates. We intentionally engage in this work to advance our West Michigan business community priorities. As we do this, we are leading a diverse business community, with equally diverse political views, and we will often disagree on the best way to accomplish our goals.

“We have heard the response to our recent GR Chamber PAC endorsement of Bill Schuette for Governor and the frustration and disappointment from members of our business community, particularly as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“We understand our endorsement decisions do not take place in a vacuum and we are open to dialogue to understand the impact of our decisions.

“The Chamber remains committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We continue to actively advocate for expansion of the Elliott Larsen Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity as one of our key advocacy priorities. We believe everyone should be able to show up as their whole person in all aspects of their life. 

“Our endorsement process is very robust and member driven. The PAC does not use any Chamber member funds and is entirely funded by PAC donors. Each candidate is evaluated against the business policy agenda developed for and by our members. We rarely, if ever, agree with every candidate on all the issues. We select the candidates who we feel will support our polices most often. We announced our endorsement of Bill Schuette for Governor because he aligns most closely with our business-friendly policies and all candidates are aware that an advocacy priority for the Chamber is expansion of the Elliott Larsen Act. 

“We believe we can be most effective in influencing the business environment by being involved in the process of researching, interviewing and endorsing candidates based on our Chamber priorities. We view these candidates as allies we can engage in pushing our priorities forward and being part of the process gives our members a voice. 

“If you would like to reach out directly, please connect with myself or Andy Johnston, Vice President of Government Affairs. We appreciate your engagement as we continue to build muscle in integrating DEI into everything we do, including our endorsement process, and advocating for our members.”

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