Council repeals LGBT ordinance, endorses state proposals

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published October 10, 2014


STERLING HEIGHTS — A successful petition drive by thousands of Sterling Heights residents led to the City Council’s decision Oct. 7 to formally repeal an ordinance that made it unlawful to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity in many cases.

The City Council voted 5-1 to repeal the law, called the Sterling Heights Non-Discrimination Ordinance. Councilman Joseph Romano was the lone no vote. The council also unanimously supported a resolution to support proposed legislation that would amend the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

The City Council originally adopted the ordinance in June. The ordinance’s stated goal was to have sexual orientation and gender identity treated like race, sex, national origin and other classifications that receive antidiscrimination protections under the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

Some city officials said the recently passed ordinance promoted equality and made the city inclusive for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in terms of housing, public accommodations and employment. Some ordinance opponents said the law was vague, unnecessary or threatening to religious liberty.

Despite the ordinance’s passage, a summer petition drive by ordinance opponents successfully acquired 6,380 valid resident signatures, surpassing the 5,858 needed under the City Charter’s guidelines, according to officials. That suspended the ordinance and sent it back to the City Council for either repeal or a future scheduled referendum.

During public comment, Julie Bondy, co-chair of the pro-ordinance 1SH, or One Sterling Heights group, talked about fighting for the ordinance and said the experience helped her grow as a person.

She said she lives in Sterling Heights “for now,” but she said her fight here is over.

“I believe Sterling Heights took 10 steps backwards,” she said. “Now the opposing group here may believe they have won, but this is only for the next couple months, affecting one city in one state within our country. Elliott-Larsen will be included, LGBT will be included. … Over the next year and a half, it’ll happen.”

While Mayor Pro Tem Michael Taylor, an ordinance supporter, said he was making his vote with a heavy heart, he also said he is optimistic about where the issue is heading.

“There is undeniable momentum,” he said. “We’re going to wake up decades from now in a country where it’s just a given that everyone has equal rights and nobody’s being discriminated based on their orientation.”

Along with repealing the ordinance, the City Council voted to approve a resolution endorsing proposed state legislation that is currently sitting in Lansing.

Senate Bill No. 1053 and House Bill No. 5804 would amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections against discrimination for sexual orientation as well as gender identity and expression.

During the council meeting, some City Council members said they will wait and see what the state does over the next few months, adding that the city could revisit the issue later if nothing happens.

But while residents both for and against the ordinance spoke, some residents objected to the resolution that the council agreed to send to Lansing. Sterling Heights resident Sanaa Elias said the council was not speaking for the people, and she called the letter a bad step.

“If you were repealing it, for you to go on and put a resolution to the state is very offensive,” she said. “What you’re saying is, ‘I believe in this,’ but then, ‘I don’t.’ You’re lying to the people here.”

Former Councilman Paul Smith called the idea of a letter to Lansing “absolutely, totally out of line,” adding that it was “buried in the e-packet and not on the face of the agenda.” He also believed that it should have been a standalone item, and he said the people of Sterling Heights don’t want it.

“City Council really took a beating on this, and the longer you delay, the more beating you’re going to take,” he said.

“So here we’re going to take another beating by sending basically a blatant lie to Lansing, to lie to the state government and say the people of Sterling Heights want a gay rights ordinance when we have an overwhelming petition that says we absolutely don’t.”

Romano told the Sentry after the meeting that he voted no on the repeal because he didn’t want to change his earlier vote to approve the ordinance, adding that he gave it careful consideration.

“I felt that I voted with my heart, and I think that was the right choice that I made,” he said.

The ordinance repeal wasn’t the only LGBT-related topic that was discussed at the Oct. 7 meeting.

During public comment, pro-ordinance resident Geoff Gariepy said the City Council recently appointed Julie Bondy to sit on the Ethnic Community Committee board. Gariepy said Bondy “was forced into resignation” due to discrimination over her pro-LGBT views.

“I find this completely inexcusable, and I find it especially reprehensible that it happened on a committee board, a community committee board, that is supposed to extol the virtues of diversity,” Gariepy said.

Stojadin Naumovski, known as “Dr. Steve,” who sits on the ethnic committee, denied that Bondy’s resignation was forced and said it was her decision. He said he welcomed Bondy over the phone, and she said she was Italian and wanted to represent the LGBT community.

“I told her, you know, it may be counterproductive for you, for your agenda, to be on the committee, and maybe you don’t know about the committee,” Naumovski said.

Bondy did not speak about her resignation at the meeting. After the meeting, she told the Sentry that she was appointed to the committee in August, and she was getting ready to attend her first meeting in early October when she had the telephone conversation with Naumovski.

Bondy said she believed that her position in the gay rights community was a reason that the council appointed her, adding that she wanted to reach out to parents of gay children and to children with gay parents, and to work with anti-bullying education programs.

She said a restriction from talking about these plans led to her decision to resign.

“I have fought against people like this since we started this (ordinance campaign) in April, and I just don’t want to fight anymore,” she said.

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