What's At Stake In Royal Oak?

Despite statewide campaigns and plenty of BTL stories, there are still people in the LGBT community who do not realize they can be fired for being gay in Michigan. That's why cities across the state have enacted local human rights ordinances. And that is why what's happening in Royal Oak right now is so important.
In March, city commissioners passed an ordinance to protect LGBT people and other specific groups from workplace discrimination and discrimination in housing and public accommodations, with a 6-1 vote. The ordinance is similar to ones passed in 22 other cities in Michigan, however in Royal Oak people opposed to equal rights have challenged the ordinance and now it will go to a public vote on Nov. 5.
The state of Michigan has a civil rights law, called Elliott Larsen. But that law only protects people based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status. There is no protection for LGBT people or those who are HIV positive. And even if there was, local ordinances would still have their place.
Allison VanKuiken, who is the campaign manager for One Royal Oak, said local human rights ordinances are essential whether there is a state law or not. "A local ordinance would provide the people of Royal Oak a local recourse for when discrimination happens. If you have a state level protection, you have to go to the attorney general if you have a complaint. But if you have one in Royal Oak, you can go file a complaint with the local police department right up the street. You know if you're in a community with a human rights ordinance that they are more likely to take your complaint seriously and they'll be close by to do so. So even if there is one at the state level, cities like Royal Oak still need to enact one."
VanKuiken and the volunteers of Royal Oak One launched their campaign with a party at Pronto that attracted 125 people last week. The effort to encourage voters to keep the ordinance will take a lot of organization, and a lot of money.
Kevin Howley, a candidate for Oakland County Executive in 2012 and former interim executive director of Affirmations Community Center, sent out an appeal recently to tell recipients why he was supporting the campaign. He emphasized that, "A convincing victory in Royal Oak will send a clear message to leaders in Lansing that things need to change on a statewide basis. Providing an expansion of civil rights protections is good for business, good for jobs, improves the quality of life and, most importantly, is the right thing to do."
Howley also pointed out that many other municipalities were watching what is happening in Royal Oak.
"City councils all over Michigan are watching this vote in Royal Oak. Many councils already have a majority who are willing to support expanded protections in their local ordinance, but they fear what might happen to them personally at the ballot box. We all know that the political landscape has changed dramatically over the last five years, but elected officials need to see the evidence. An overwhelming victory will give them the confidence they need to do the right thing."
A sweeping victory in November will also discourage those on the fringe from pursuing future initiatives that block the expansion of civil rights. If it becomes clear that their efforts are going to fail, money will dry up and city councils will prevail
"We need money for building a field program, voter outreach, literature, phone banking, polling, events and our webpage. Literature is the big thing. We plan on doing several mailings between now and November," VanKuiken said.
A similar fight happened in 2001 when a human rights ordinance was on the ballot. In that case it lost with 4,296 votes to 8,864 against it. VanKuiken believes that times have changed though, and that the growing support of equal rights nationwide will influence the level of acceptance now.
VanKuiken also has a lot of faith in strategy.
"What happened in 2001? They weren't identifying voters, targeting who they wanted to talk to. It sounded like a lot of hopeful thinking. They didn't operate an aggressive campaign," she said. "We're going to identify voters and supportive businesses and keep this fresh in their minds."
She added that churches and LGBT advocacy groups like Equality Michigan and Affirmations would be key to creating a strong coalition. "We need to raise visibility for the LGBT community. Why doesn't the gay community realize they can be fired for being gay? We don't have anything here in Michigan to protect us."
There will be several fundraisers and educational events in the coming months, including a Madmen-themed party and wine tasting at Cafe Muse on July 30, and a drag queen Tupperware sale on Oct.3 at 5th Avenue. More are being planned so readers are encouraged to signup online to receive updates at Donations can be sent to One Royal Oak, 321 S. Williams St., Royal Oak, MI 48067.

Information for those who want to get involved or donate can be found at the campaign's webpage and their Facebook page at