By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
FERNDALE – Does it or doesn’t it cover gender identity? That was the question that members of Detroit’s transgender and allied community were asking about Ferndale’s proposed human rights ordinance over the Fourth of July weekend.
According to Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project, the answer is: probably. And according to City Council and ordinance committee member Craig Covey, the answer is: yes.
During the holiday weekend, members and allies of the Detroit-area transgender community received emails claiming that the ordinance, which was placed on the November ballot on June 26 by the City Council, contained sexual orientation protections but left transgender people out.
However, the ordinance does forbid discrimination based on gender, and defines “gender” “as the real or perceived physical characteristics that identify an individual as male or female.”
In other words, if the ordinance is passed it would be illegal in the city of Ferndale to discriminate against someone because she or he does not look masculine or feminine enough.
In an email to BTL, Kaplan said, “Looking at the definition of gender it appears that it could cover transgender persons in that it talks about perceived (gender) physical characteristics.”
“But if that is the case,” Kaplan continued, “I wonder why they just didn’t have a category gender identity/expression included in the proposed language, like the City of Huntington Woods does.” Huntington Woods is among several municipalities and other organizations that use the term, “gender identity and/or expression” in their non-discrimination policies to define transgender persons.
According to City Attorney Dan Christ, the ordinance committee that recommended the proposal looked at ordinances in other jurisdictions when considering Ferndale’s draft ordinance. Christ declined to offer a legal opinion as to whether or not the Ferndale ordinance specifically includes transgender individuals, saying that he had not been asked by the city to research the matter.
Christ said familiarity was one of the issues his committee considered in reviewing the language. Ferndale’s residents voted down an identical ordinance in a close vote in 2000.
Christ said his committee thought that this time around, voters, “would already be familiar with that draft, as opposed to introducing additional nuance or dimensions to that draft…”
“It does not define transgender individuals, so I’m not sure there’s uniformity of opinion if there’s one definition that everybody agrees on or not,” Christ said.
“As it stands right now, it looks like it’s pretty good,” said Transgender Detroit co-founder and President Michelle Fox-Phillips of the proposed ordinance. Fox-Phillips added that she would be asking Covey why the specific phrase, “gender identity or expression” was not used.
“We on the City Council believe the ordinance covers everyone, including transgender persons,” said Covey. “This misunderstanding occurred during the four day holiday weekend, thus most of us were not available to explain the situation. If there is a need to fine-tune the ordinance, there are very simple ways to do so.”