The fight continues: anti-discrimination ordinance addressed at city hall

Residents filled city hall for the Mount Pleasant City Commission’s meeting on Monday, Feb. 27. There were a number of items on the agenda, but it seemed that many people came to witness the anti-discrimination ordinance proposed by Dr. Norma Bailey and supporters.

While the meeting was scheduled to start at 7 p.m., nearly every seat was occupied 20 minutes beforehand while others stood around the edges of the room.

Currently, there is no federal or Michigan law that protects the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) community from discrimination of employment, housing, and public accommodations, Bailey said in her PowerPoint presentation on Monday night.

Without a law in place, those who identify with LGBT can be terminated from their occupation based on sexual orientation. One may not be granted the right to acquire affordable housing because the landlord has every legal right to deny occupancy. A restaurant owner may even tell a LGBT couple to leave.

“A reasonable fear is created in the minds of LGBT,” Bailey said.

These basic civil rights are protected in Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Act for all residents — except those in the LGBT community — and that was exactly the issue at hand at Monday night’s meeting.

“It’s about civil rights,” Rev. Charlie Farnum of United Methodist Church said — a notion that was echoed by other residents during public comment. “This ordinance is the right thing to do; it’s good for business and our community.”

Though Farnum believes the practice of homosexuality is wrong, he said he is in full support of the ordinance, opining that  “all people are created equally.”

In a poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner in 2011, 65 percent of Michigan voters support basic rights of employment, housing, and public accommodations for people who are LGBT. In Mount Pleasant, 88 percent support these same rights and currently 35 local businesses are in support, according to Bailey.

During public comment, one speaker caused a bit of resentment within some of those in favor of the ordinance. Several people shook their heads as the man spoke and one individual turned his back to the speaker as he walked away from the podium to find his seat.

That speaker was Bill Johnson, president of the American Decency Association based out of Freemont, Mich. Johnson shared anecdotes of people he knew who had contracted STDs and eventually died from AIDS.

“It’s a slippery slope,” Johnson said, insisting that the ordinance was promoting the homosexual lifestyle.

Vice Mayor Kathleen Ling voiced concern over enforcing penalties for instances of non-compliance of the ordinance if it had been passed.

Jay Kaplan, an attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT project, assured the commission that the appropriate discipline will be applied.

“If you really want to enforce something, it’s best to provide a private cause of action,” Kaplan said.

The authority to carry out such discipline for not complying with the ordinance is in the hands of the city manager. Commissioner Sharon Tilmann noted that the city manager is overburdened as it is. Kaplan responded, stating that in other cities where a similar ordinance is in effect there have been merely one to three incidents a year where it had been violated.

“There is a low workload associated with the ordinance,” Kaplan said. Other communities in Michigan have set up separate committees to investigate such violations.

The discussion concluded with a few words from Mayor Bruce Kilmer.

“City commission neither opposes nor endorses the ordinance,” Kilmer said, adding that the ordinance was not written by the commission, and it will spend time with Bailey and supporters to get the wording right to generate a final proposition.