By AJ Trager
Julie Bondy, Co-Chair of 1 Sterling Heights
Photo by AJ Trager
STERLING HEIGHTS – Three months after it was passed, the Sterling Heights City Council repealed the non-discrimination ordinance that broadened protections to include gender identity and sexual orientation.
The ordinance was first introduced in May of this year and before it was signed into city law by Mayor Richard Notte, the council heard over 10 hours of community comment. It passed with a 7-0 vote and included a religious exemption for protections of religious liberty, something Councilman Doug Skrzyniarz says is extremely important to him.
“It was one of the proudest days of my life,” Skrzyniarz wrote in an Op-Ed in September.
With other council members, Skrzyniarz looked at the threshold of the city and found it to be high, meaning that there was a high likelihood that if it came to a vote, city members would support LGBT protections on a non-discrimination ordinance.
But was he incorrect?
The ordinance passed in June, and shortly after, a group called the Sterling Heights Referendum Petition began collecting signatures for a petition calling for a public vote to repeal the ordinance. A month later, the signatures were collected and the city council – that had voted unanimously – repealed the ordinance from city law.
Julie Bondy was a big part of the process from the start. She was contacted by Skrzyniarz and Nate Shannon, co-chair of a group of advocates and activists pushing for the ordinance to pass called 1 Sterling Heights (1SH), and a few Sterling Heights city workers to work on community involvement and education of the proposal.
Bondy passed out fliers at Ferndale Pride, Motor City Pride and she walked through Royal Oak and neighboring cities talking to the community to garner support. Her partner works for the City of Sterling Heights, which is the fourth largest city in Michigan, and for a brief three months was able to celebrate inclusion.
“She couldn’t be out at work, then she could, and now she can’t anymore,” Bondy said in near disbelief. “The firefighters that came out and did their speeches, they’re vulnerable now. So many people saw me that, if I walk around there (Sterling Heights), I could be discriminated against. We’re trying to sell our condo right now; if we go to buy a house and I walk in, I could be discriminated against. I, too, am vulnerable now.”
Bondy said that, while she was at a city council meeting with her son, the Referendum Petition called the LGBT community “sick, unnatural, immoral” and that they “get special rights” and are “impinging on their religious beliefs.”
“It was extremely liberating to stand there,” Bondy explained. “You saw the hatred in the room.” She delivered a speech, as did her son Mitchell, 21. And they were excited to see that the ordinance passed soon after.
“The question is, do we repeal it or put it up for a vote,” Skrzyniarz said. “Unfortunately, we cannot put it up for a vote this November.”
The deadline for anything to be placed on the November ballot passed on Sept. 5 so the Sterling Heights City Council voted to repealed the ordinance. Skrzyniarz says that a lot can happen in Lansing by the end of the year, and if not, the ordinance can go up for a statewide vote again in November of 2016. The council could have chosen to put it up for a vote in 2015, but they are looking towards the state legislature to make a decision. In the next meeting, the city council will look at a resolution to support a statewide amendment to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
“The council is unanimous in terms of supporting LGBT rights,” Skrzyniarz said.
The Mayor Pro Tem, Michael Taylor, taking over for Notte while he is on sick leave, even picketed the Referendum Petition with Skrzyniarz and Bondy when they heard they would be seeking signatures at the library, Bondy said.
“Regardless of anything else, it is the right thing to do. In our country’s history, we have been working every few decades on trying to make ourselves a more perfect union. It took us a long time in terms of women’s and other minority rights, and unfortunately it is taking us a long time to make it so that sexual orientation and gender identity is protected under the same vane. In America, if you work hard, if you follow the rules, then you are able to participate in achieving the American dream. That is the basic creed that we have in our country. You should have the same opportunity as anybody else to succeed,” Skrzyniarz said.
“I believe this is one of those things that helps define a community. If it comes out as a closed community, it will be a closed community. If you see communities that are diverse and appreciate the diverse resources that people bring, people will be attracted to that. We want to be a leader in Macomb County. That said, it is wrong to discriminate. We want to be welcoming of people from all sorts of backgrounds, so they know this is a community that your rights are protected.”
Bondy works for Chrysler and is part of their Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA). The company has been providing domestic partner benefits to its employees since 2000 and is one of few companies to receive a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. There are 15 thousand people that work in the Chrysler building with Bondy. GALA meets with other Employee Resource Groups from GM and Ford. She doesn’t understand why they can gather support for GALA, a group in an organization that employs thousands, but the same cannot be done in Sterling Heights.
“The hardest part of the fight, I thought, was going to be coming out to the public,” Bondy pressed. “The hardest part of this fight is the message that it sends: these six thousand people signed something to repeal it (the ordinance) to say that it’s all right to discriminate and to bully. So if the parents are saying ‘It’s okay,’ the kids are saying ‘It’s okay.’ It’s going to continue.”