KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield has resigned as CEO of Southwest Michigan First amid community pushback.
Chatfield released a statement to Twitter on Monday morning. He said that his resignation was, “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.”
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, an economic development agency in Kalamazoo, announced Chatfield as the new CEO on Feb. 11. According to WOODTV, the city of Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Promise both pulled support from Southwest Michigan First after the announcement that Chatfield had been hired. The Kalamazoo County Commission also discussed pulling its support but had not yet held a vote, according to the report.
The pushback revolved around Chatfield’s past comments regarding the LGBTQ community. He opposed adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of traits protected by Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
As the community started voicing concerns about Chatfield, Southwest Michigan First said it updated its handbook to make it clear it did not discriminate based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
“Regarding amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, I came into the Legislature with publicly-known beliefs. Since then, I have had had many thoughtful and enlightening conversions and have built close friendships that, quite frankly, I did not have before I was elected,” Chatfield said in his resignation letter.
“As a board of directors, you asked for my statement of beliefs regarding equality that we could release to the public. And I was already admittedly walking a fine line,” he said. “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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