By Cornelius A. Fortune
DEARBORN HEIGHTS – A town hall meeting was held Nov. 21 at Canfield Community Center in Dearborn Heights to discuss a recent human rights ordinance that included sexual orientation and gender identification in its language. Members of the community, led by Sean Kosofsky, director of policy for the Triangle Foundation, discussed the significance of the ordinance, which has come under attack in recent weeks by the American Family Association of Michigan, a far-right organization that want to see it repealed.
The ordinance was incorrectly presented as a law to protect the rights of LGBT people when it was passed Oct. 11, said Kosofsky.
“They designed the ordinance not to have the weight of enforcement,” said Kosofsky. “How do they enforce something that doesn’t stop anything? It’s mostly symbolic (in its language). It won’t ban (LGBT) discrimination. It creates a commission that will open a committee for discussion.”
That step is too far for the AFA of Michigan, which has vowed to begin a ballot drive to have the ordinance repealed. (See “AFA readies attack on rights in Dearborn Heights” online at www.pridesource.com)
At Monday’s meeting, Kosofsky passed out cards with “No One Left Behind” written on them as a message to the Dearborn Heights City Council.
“The goal is to get as many of them filled out as possible,” he said. “It’s not in Triangle’s mission to go city by city – we’re monitoring over 800 cities, so there has to be a local group that wants to rise up and be willing to fight if this thing goes to [the] ballot. We can’t do all that ourselves.”
He urged those at the meeting to write letters to their local paper expressing their support for nondiscrimination, and to meet with their city council members.
LaMarr Fields, a resident of Dearborn Heights for nine years and the director of a recent production of “The Laramie Project,” said that he had experienced discrimination in the city.
“We just closed ‘The Laramie Project’ this weekend, and it really spiked, when that happened, because I started getting calls saying ‘We know where you live,'” he said. “I feel that if we have an opportunity to do something permanent, then I think we have a responsibility to do something to make it better for those who are going to be coming up in the future.”
Information about Councilwoman Margaret Van Houten, who originally wrote the human rights ordinance, and AFA of Michigan President Gary Glenn was handed out at the meeting.
Though Van Houten drafted the original ordinance she opposed it when language including LGBT citizens was added. According to the handout, Van Houten claimed she drafted the ordinance in response to cross burning and vandalism at a Dearborn Heights Mosque. It went on to say that the AFA, under Glenn’s direction, “has called for the imprisonment of gays under sodomy laws,” that the AFA “really does little for families,” and that the organization has a history of hurting LGBT people through ballot measures.
“How many folks are willing to fight [for the ordinance] on a ballot measure?” Kosofsky said, asking for a show of hands, all of which went up in support. “There’s a small group of folks in this room that could make up the core group of a campaign community. Tonight’s meeting is a great first start,” he said.
Triangle Foundation Board Member Joy Geng felt mostly comfortable with the ordinance as written, but uncomfortable about the lack of actual protections it offers. Geng was pleased with the results of the Monday evening meeting.
“It’s a great turn out, some deep interest in the issue and perhaps strong interest in trying to push the ordinance even further to make it enforceable and to include LGBT people (in the process),” she said.
“It was a good meeting,” said Don Barrow, Dearborn Heights City Comptroller, who sat in for Mayor Paletko. “Hopefully we’ll get what we’re looking for at this point.”
Kosofsky and the Triangle Foundation are ready to move forward if the LGBT community faces opposition from Van Houten or Glenn.
“We’re very comfortable with the level of satisfaction people have with the city government here,” he said, “but folks clearly want more. It depends on whether the local community will ask for a stronger ordinance. Triangle’s willing to support any effort to ban discrimination in the city and will be there to defend that ordinance at any cost.”
Additional reporting by Dawn Wolfe Gutterman.