A coordinated campaign to pass nondiscrimination ordinances in three greater Lansing townships could result in expansion of protections for over 100,000 people who would be protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
At a May 8 press conference on the Capitol steps, Evan Hope, clerk of Delhi Township; Kenneth Fletcher, supervisor of Delta Township; and Angela Wilson, trustee of Meridian Township were joined by East Lansing Mayor Pro Tem Nathan Triplett, State Reps. Andy Schor (D-Lansing) and Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) and openly gay Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, announcing that each entity would introduce and pass comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinances.
Fletcher said he expects to begin discussions with his board this week, while Hope and Wilson indicated they expected to introduce draft ordinances as early as June.
The three townships would join East Lansing and Lansing in offering comprehensive protections and would join 22 municipalities in the state with such laws. The three officials made their announcement as part of a local coalition called One Capitol Region.
Meridian, Delta and Delhi Townships could pass these laws by the end of the year. Lansing has had a comprehensive ordinance since 2006 – after a decade without such coverage when a ballot initiative struck down the 1996 ordinance. East Lansing has had an ordinance since 1972 – the nation’s oldest law of its kind.
If all three pass comprehensive laws, it will leave only Lansing Township – an oddly shaped municipality that wraps around Lansing on the west, north and east – without such protections in the greater Lansing region. The protections will also stretch deep into Republican controlled Eaton County, joining Grand Ledge with Lansing through Delta Township.
“What makes the effort we’ve announced today notable, is that for the first time a group of communities is coming together to coordinate the passage of a common nondiscrimination policy across our entire region,” Triplett said in an email to Between The Lines. “We talk a great deal about ‘regionalism’ in Mid-Michigan. Too often ‘regionalism’ is just a word that is bandied about without ever being translated into meaningful action. This effort to pass local nondiscrimination ordinances on a regional basis will help position this area to compete for talent and send a message that collectively, as a region, we celebrate diversity and are open for business. When we’re done residents and visitors to our region will know that anywhere they live, work, or play in the Capitol Region they are protected from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The value of that common approach to this important issue cannot be overstated. I hope it will serve as a model for other regions across our state.”
VIDEO: East Lansing Mayor Pro Tem Nathan Triplett
The Big Impact
The three townships that are actively pursuing adoption of comprehensive ordinances fit into a larger picture in Michigan. Since the inception last year of Local Electeds Against Discrimination (LEAD), a coalition of local elected leaders dedicated to passage of nondiscrimination laws in Michigan, five municipalities have added nondiscrimination laws that cover LGBT residents, raising the number from 18 to 22.
“Today is a beginning, it starts the beginning of this process of adopting ordinances in these three communities and setting an example for other communities across the state and perhaps, more importantly, to the state legislature and the state capitol,” said Triplett during the press conference.
Two Michigan state reps agreed with Triplett. The momentum of local ordinances puts pressure on the state legislature to amend the state’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity, the lawmakers said.
“I think as always, when the locals step up and the grassroots step up and lead the way it does put pressure on the legislature,” says State Rep. Andy Schor (D-Lansing). “It’s an issue that has been brewing for some time now. I’m hopeful. I don’t know if we can guarantee anything, but when the citizens stand up and say something, we definitely take notice at the capitol.”
State Rep. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) agreed with Schor.
“I think there is a level of pressure that gets put on the state legislature whenever local communities add on – and we’ve been seeing that happening across the state,” Singh says. “I’m hopeful that in the state legislature we will be having this kind of conversation in the coming months.”
VIDEO: Evan Hope, clerk of Delhi Township
The 2010 census put the number of residents of Delhi at just under 30,000 people. The township is often referred to as Holt, because of the school district located therein.
A brutal Republican primary for supervisor post in the last election pitted local pastor Jeff Hall against 10-year incumbent Stuart Goodrich, a local optician. Hall bested Goodrich, resulting in a battle between Hall and Democrat C.J. Davis.
Hall runs the nondenominational Community Faith Church. The church hosted meetings of Grassroots Michigan, a Tea Party organization. Hall was slammed by Republican supporters of Goodrich for being a Tea Party supporter during the August primary, an allegation he denied to the City Pulse newspaper.
Despite this, Hall tells BTL that he has no plans to be involved in opposing the proposed law, noting that he is planning to move from the township in the next month.
Delhi Clerk Evan Hope said he was not concerned about Hall and the Tea Party group organizing against the ordinance.
“If a group wants to try to fight this, they’re only going to show how out of touch with the mainstream that they are. I don’t think they’ll gain any traction in Delhi Township,” Hope told BTL.
He says the majority of the Board supports the proposal and expects to introduce a draft ordinance in June.
Laying to the west of Lansing, this region digs deep into Eaton County, featuring the Lansing Mall and an attendant shopping region surrounding it. The 2010 census found the township had a population of 32,408 people.
On May 13, the township will begin the process of discussing a comprehensive ordinance according to an agenda item for the body’s meeting.
“These proposed ordinances are also important from an economic development point of view,” Kenneth Fletcher, supervisor of Delta Township said during the Capitol press conference. “Businesses locate where they can find the talent pool they need. We need to attract and retain the best and brightest workforce in Michigan… We can’t do that if we tell the LGBT community that they won’t be protected from discrimination.”
Fletcher noted that many do not see the boundaries of municipalities when they consider the greater Lansing community.
“Every day we hear stories of women and men being discouraged and even turned away from renting or buying homes because they are gay or transgendered right here in our communities,” said Meridian Township Trustee Angela Wilson. “This inequality has got to stop. Every person’s right to work and provide a home and living for themselves and their family must be protected.”
As a member of the Meridian Township Board, Wilson says she will spearhead an ordinance through the board beginning in June. The township, located to the east of East Lansing and featuring the Meridian Mall, has a population of just under 40,000 people. It also boasts two school districts, Okemos and Haslett.
As of mid-May, Lansing Township is the sole hold out in the move to make the entire Lansing metro area a discrimination free zone. But Kathy Rodgers, supervisor for the township of just over 8,000 residents, says she does not oppose a nondiscrimination ordinance. She said her board had not discussed an ordinance, but it might.