The Republican former Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives Monday resigned from his new post as Chief Executive Officer of the nonprofit Southwest Michigan First (SWMF) after the organization faced backlash from the LGBT community for hiring him.
“For the betterment of the Kalamazoo community, the businesses that the board of directors represent, the staff at SWMF and for the sake of my conscience, please see the letter of resignation I offered this morning. I remain grateful for having had this incredible opportunity,” Lee Chatfield said on Twitter.
For the betterment of the Kalamazoo community, the businesses that the board of directors represent, the staff at SWMF and for the sake of my conscience, please see the letter of resignation I offered this morning. I remain grateful for having had this incredible opportunity. pic.twitter.com/loS4v0kH3t
— Lee Chatfield (@LeeChatfield) February 22, 2021
“Southwest Michigan First is an organization of privately funded economic development advisors who act as the catalyst for economic success in Southwest Michigan,” according to its website. “Founded in 1999 on the principle that the most powerful force for change is a well-paying job, the organization works across all industries throughout the seven counties making up the Southwest Michigan Region.”
But the group faced severe backlash for hiring Chatfield.
The Kalamazoo City Commission voted to drop the city’s relationship with SWMF last week. They paid the nonprofit $10,000 annually. The Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners, which paid the nonprofit $75,000 annually, threatened to pull its support, too.
Journalists chased down Western Michigan University President Edward Montgomery, a board member at SWMF, and asked him to disavow Chatfield, adding fuel to the fire. He said Chatfield’s beliefs “do not align with WMU’s values,” according to Michigan Live.
Chatfield’s crime, in the eyes of the political left, was his failure to support amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect the rights LGBT individuals without adding religious exemptions.
“I do not believe we can pass this law while still protecting religious freedom,” Chatfield told WKAR-TV in 2019. “You’ve seen these laws passed in other states where what happens, in my opinion, is a reverse discrimination against those who have religious beliefs.”
Ultimately, the pressure led to Chatfield’s resignation from the group after only one week of employment.
“It is true, that while in office, I upheld my personal convictions and those I believed held up my constituencies,” he said in his resignation letter. “And as CEO, I was more than willing to uphold the values of the company. But I knew I couldn’t within myself be honest to those around me by always agreeing on what good public policy was or what was necessarily right or wrong.”
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