"I really think that what we're doing here is a proclamation of how we do live." - Pleasant Ridge Resident Pat Gross

Pleasant Ridge Human Rights Ordinance Passes Unanimously

By Crystal A. Proxmire

There was little to debate in the unanimous passing of the Pleasant Ridge Human Rights Ordinance on April 9. The ordinance makes it a misdemeanor with a $500 fine to discriminate in the areas of housing, employment or public accommodation in the city.

Pat Gross, who has lived in Pleasant Ridge for 23 years, was among those who spoke at a public comment hearing on the ordinance. "Unlike a lot of the communities where they pass these ordinances to kind of say 'this is how we should be,' I really think that what we're doing here is a proclamation of how we do live. I personally have always felt safe here."

Pleasant Ridge has the highest per capita population of self-identified gay people in Michigan as reported in the last census, and they are now the 22nd municipality to enact a human rights ordinance.

Resident Jeanne Ruzzin questioned why the penalty was only $500, saying it was just a "slap on the hand." Members of the Commission explained that $500 was the amount set by the state for local ordinance fines.

The only other question came from a resident who wondered why HIV was listed as a protected class, but that people with other health conditions weren't specifically listed. Rudy Serra, a former Judge and a former School Board member of Ferndale Schools of which Pleasant Ridge is a part, happened to be at the meeting to speak on another matter. Serra served as the first openly gay judge in the state and was a member of the Detroit Human Resources Commission. He addressed the woman's concerns by explaining, "The distinction though, is HIV is the only chronic disease that's criminalized in Michigan. ...There are people in prison today because of failure to disclose their HIV status and that's why HIV status is included in most of the modern up to date ordinances that municipalities look at."

Victor Walker, an employee of Affirmations Community Center in neighboring Ferndale, said that he meets young people from Pleasant Ridge in his work. He too expressed hope that HIV status would be specifically retained in the ordinance wording. "There is no other health issue that is as stigmatized as HIV," he said. "Once you hear someone has HIV you never forget that."

The ordinance was passed unanimously as originally drafted. To the north, in Royal Oak, the City Commission recently passed a Human Rights Ordinance, but it was put on hold after residents gathered enough signatures to intercede. There the ordinance must now go for a public vote during the next election.

To learn more about Human Rights Ordinances in cities across the state, visit the Unity Michigan website at http://www.unitymichigan.org/resources.
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