Royal OakNovember 27, 2012
Human rights ordinance draws support
Gay, straight, transgender residents unify for anti-discriminatory hiring, housing practices
By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer
ROYAL OAK — Eleven years ago, residents forced a vote on a proposed human rights ordinance and soundly defeated the proposal by 67.36 percent (8,864 people).
Fast forward to Nov. 19, when the City Commission voted unanimously to direct City Attorney David Gillam to draft a new human rights ordinance for consideration.
With more than a dozen residents and business owners on hand, the overwhelming public comment portion of the meeting supported a new ordinance prohibiting discrimination of all kinds, which was largely geared toward protecting the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community. Those speaking up in support indicated they hailed from various ranges of sexual orientation, as well as various ethnicities.
“All different slices of individuals in this community came to us about this,” Commissioner Jim Rasor said. “If people are against this, I think they want to continue to hate and discriminate, and we’re not about that. People think, ‘Doesn’t Royal Oak already have this?’ And the answer is ‘no.’ This is a welcome mat. This is a best practice.”
In a four-page document Commissioners Rasor and Kyle DuBuc presented as background information, they said they are looking to join other communities including Birmingham, Ferndale, Ann Arbor and East Lansing in having some sort of ordinance that prohibits housing, employment, real estate and insurance discrimination “on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, height, weight, condition of pregnancy, marital status, physical or mental limitation, source of income, family responsibilities, educational association, sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status.”
“I feel privileged that I can practice my religion without discrimination,” said Commissioner Mike Fournier, who noted he practices Catholicism. “Taking no action is an action, as well. I will side with love, tolerance and acceptance.”
Former City Commissioner Gary Lelito said this is a simple step toward equal living and working conditions, and shouldn’t be confused with the heated debate over gay marriage. Lelito said he went to San Francisco in 2008 to marry his partner.
“We’re not talking marriage equality here, we’re talking human rights,” Lelito said, noting that many commissioners that sat alongside him from 2005-09 may not have even known his sexual orientation at the time.
Resident Tara Makar, with her infant daughter in hand, said she wanted her children’s generation to grow up in a city that practiced equality and not discrimination.
“People’s civil liberties should never be put to a popular vote,” Makar said. “The people of Royal Oak are good people, but you can’t just rely on people to do the right thing; otherwise, you wouldn’t need laws. Equal rights are not special rights.”
Commissioner Peggy Goodwin said she was formerly a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigator in college and saw cases of discrimination first hand.
“I realized how hard it was to prove discrimination, but you also saw how many cases there were,” Goodwin said.
She said she was surprised that Royal Oak did not already have such an ordinance, and that many communities already do.
Although specific incidents of recent discrimination were not mentioned and Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter was on hand to say the ordinance created no additional work for his police staff after Ferndale passed a similar ordinance, several local residents said a human rights ordinance would make Royal Oak appear both safer and more appealing to not only the LGBT community, but all others, as well.
“The timing for this ordinance is really good because it does speak to tolerance,” Commissioner Patricia Capello said, noting some of the negative comments made during the recent presidential election.
Such an ordinance would not become a public vote unless a petition to get it put on the ballot is successfully collected. Most ordinances are passed at the City Commission table.
To view the full meeting, visit www.ci.royal-oak.mi.us.
The next City Commission meeting is at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at City Hall, 211 S. Williams.