by Jessica Carreras
Last Wednesday, the city of Detroit made a huge leap forward in LGBT rights when the City Council voted to amend the city’s non-discrimination ordinance to include “gender identity or expression. It joins a growing list of cities that includes seven of the top 10 largest in America.
The Triangle Foundation, who spearheaded the push for the amendment, has been working on it since last September. Their effort was delayed, however, due to the scandal involving Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, which took precedence on the Council’s agenda. They were, however, pleased with how quickly and smoothly the change went through. “This is the first time we’ve tried to get this to pass,” Director of Policy Sean Kosofsky said. “There were no road blocks put up. No one tried stopping it.”
The added measure will protect transgender people in several ways, including defense from discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, public services and public accommodations. This includes hotel and restaurant reservation booking, as well as service provided by such departments as city government and police. The measure will allow anyone, resident or visitor, to bring a civil suit against the discriminator, be it a person, group, organization or business.
The ordinance passed 8-1 with Council member Kwame Kenyatta voting against it. “The practices and policies of the city of Detroit should promote a public confidence in the fairness and equal treatment of any and all human beings,” said City Council President Kenneth Cockrel, Jr. “Detroit is a welcoming city, and all of our policies must reflect this openness and commitment to social justice.”
Kosofsky, who was present at the meeting where the change was passed, said that opposition came from the city’s Human Rights Department, who argued that no such change was needed. “They argued that sexual orientation was good enough for them to cover trans people,” Kosofsky elaborated.
Kenyatta echoed the sentiment. “We were concerned all along that he might be a ‘no’ vote,” Kosofsky said. “This was not something he was warm to.”
In addition, one member of the Human Rights Department argued that employers should have a say in who they hire, and that some may find cross-dressing disruptive in the workplace. “If you can’t do your job because of the way someone dresses in the next cubicle,” Kosofsky retaliated, “then you’re not professional and should probably find other work.”
He added, however, that the Triangle Foundation will be working with Councilman Kenyatta and the Human Rights Department in the future to build a better relationship with them on LGBT issues.
But for now, Triangle and the LGBT community are celebrating the passage of the ordinance and looking forward to continuing to end anti-transgender discrimination in Michigan. “The passage of this human rights ordinance is a great positive step forward for the city and we are pleased to have been involved on the ground level to ensure the inclusion of gender identity,” said Triangle Foundation Interim Executive Director Kate Runyon.
For Triangle, the only thing to do now is move forward. Currently, Kosofsky said, they are working with several other cities in Michigan to pass the same measure. Also, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm recently signed an executive order protecting state employees from discrimination based on gender identity. Seven state universities have followed suit.
Statewide efforts are also happening, but have been less successful. Kosofsky and Triangle, however, are hopeful that the near future will bring better results. “We are moving ahead with our policies statewide,” he said. “We’re constantly moving forward.”