KALAMAZOO – Over 250 people showed up for a meeting of the Kalamazoo City Commission’s Sub-Committee on the Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Monday night. The meeting was one of the first steps towards reintroducing – and likely passing – an anti-discrimination ordinance the commission passed late last year. Opponents of the ordinance gathered the requisite 1,500 signatures to force the Commission to rescind the ordinance or put it up for a vote. In January, the Commission rescinded the ordinance.
Monday night’s hearing allowed those in favor and those opposed 20 minutes each to present their case to the Commission Sub-Committee. Following those presentations, individual community members were allowed to address the Sub-Committee for up to four minutes each.
Those in favor of the controversial ordinance amendment used two speakers; one proceeding the opposition and one following the opposition. Speaking first was Sarah VanWormer from the Michigan Project Forum for Public Policy. The MPFPP is a group of doctors, educators, social scientists and others who review medical studies and their application to public policy.
“As you listen to concerned Kalamazoo residents tonight, I ask that you take into account the vast body of evidence showing how discrimination and bias can negatively and seriously impact the emotional, mental and health and well being of everyday citizens,” VanWormer said. She then went on to present a summation of studies showing the impact of discrimination on the mental health of LBGT people.
Next came Kalamazoo County Treasurer Mary Balkema, who presented the opposition group Kalamazoo Citizens Voting No to Special Rights Discrimination take on the ordinance and its potential negative impacts. Balkema’s presentation included a powerpoint display of images from Toronto and New York City Pride Marches. She said the behavior shown in the slides, which she called “lewdness,” was allowed as a result of similarly passed anti-discrimination policies.
“Sold to the unsuspecting citizenry as tolerance, such amendments and policies lead directly to discrimination against people who believe that such behavior is not only wrong, but is completely antithetical to the proper healthy functioning and continuation of society,” Balkema said. She claimed the ordinance would infringe on free speech and freedom of religion rights of citizens in Kalamazoo. She also claimed it would infringe on the right of privacy for women and children in public rest rooms.
Balkema claimed the inclusion of gender identity would allow a man to get his driver’s license changed to identify himself as a woman, allowing him access to the women’s rest room where women and children would likely be raped and assaulted. VanWormer said her group’s research into that claim had found not a single case of a transgender person charged with or brought to trial under such a circumstance anywhere such legislation had been passed.
Closing out the opening remarks was Matthew Laney, pastor of First Congregational Church of Christ in downtown Kalamazoo. Laney spoke in support of the ordinance as a religious leader in the community.
Following Laney’s speech, the Sub-Committee opened the floor to public comment, which continued for several hours.
At the end of the meeting, Kalamazoo City Commissioner David Anderson, chair of the Sub-Committee, told participants they could still submit written comment regarding the ordinance until March 26. Following that, the Commission would consider revisions to the ordinance, based on public comment, and likely vote on the new amended ordinance in the end of April or May, depending on scheduling.