By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
FERNDALE – Despite bad weather on Sept. 30, volunteers from the Ferndale Alliance Valuing Our Residents hit their hometown streets to garner support for an LGBT-inclusive human rights ordinance that will appear on the November ballot.
On Oct. 1, they were out again. And they will be out, day and night, until the election, according to FAVOR Campaign Manager Derek Smiertka. Meanwhile, the extremist group American Family Association of Michigan is raising money via their Web site to defeat the proposed ordinance once again.
FAVOR was formed in August to promote and pass the human rights ordinance, which will protect citizens from housing and job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The 2006 election marks the third time the ordinance will appear on the ballot. The American Family Association of Michigan funded efforts to kill the human rights measure during both of its previous appearances on the ballot.
This time FAVOR is ready for the extremists. With a steering committee led by Ferndale City Council member Craig Covey, former School Board member Mary Schusterbauer, and local community activists Ann Heler and Derek Smiertka and at least 15 volunteers so far, FAVOR has begun an energetic campaign to assure the proposal’s passage.
FAVOR has also met with fundraising success. In just two events, house parties on Sept. 28 and Oct. 1, the group raised $1,400 and overall is already a third of the way to their fundraising goal.
“The good news is we’ve raised about a third of what we need, the bad news is that we need to raise twice as much more,” said Covey.
Even though, “the rain made it brutal,” FAVOR volunteers received a “phenomenal reception,” during Saturday’s canvass.
“Without question, we have a really fair minded progressive community that is ready to see equality prosper,” Smiertka said.
While hard on the volunteers, beginning the campaign on a rainy day may actually have helped the cause.
“Walking door to door in the rain is the best for voter contact – people say, ‘Wow, you really believe in this campaign and this issue and you’re willing to put your health at risk,” Smiertka said between sniffles. “It’s great for publicity but bad for your health. I think I got sick.”
Fair-minded activists may need all the help they can get to counter moves by the Midland-headquartered AFA to fight for the “right” to discriminate. A BTL check of the anti-human rights organization’s web site on Oct. 2 confirmed that the group is soliciting donations, “to assist us in opposing homosexual activistsÕ latest attempt to impose a discriminatory ‘gay rights’ ordinance on another community in Michigan.” On Sept. 15, The Mirror newspaper quoted AFA of Michigan President Gary Glenn as vowing that, ÒWeÕll do anything we can to assist Ferndale residents who are opposed to this discriminatory ordinance.Ó Glenn’s group claims that forbidding discrimination against sexual minorities targets religious groups and individuals who have a “moral” objection to their sexuality.
Passage of the ordinance is critical, and not just to Ferndale, said Smiertka, who cited the possible “domino effect” that either winning or losing in November could have on other communities that may be considering similar legislation. If the human rights ordinance is approved by city voters, Ferndale will join Detroit, Ann Arbor, Huntington Woods, Kalamazoo, and many other cities in Michigan that include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination legislation.
For FAVOR co-Chair Heler, the ordinance is “unfinished business.”
ÒThe people of Ferndale value their diverse residents, and we are going to work hard to make sure the issue passes this time around,Ó she said.
In addition to fundraising, that hard work will include door-to-door canvassing on weekday evenings and weekends and a “huge” get out the vote effort during the last 48 hours before the election, said Smiertka.
Smiertka urged fair-minded citizens in other parts of the state to “Call your friends in Ferndale and remind them to get out and vote. It matters to everybody.”
FAVOR needs help passing the Ferndale Human Rights ordinance, which would extend non-discrimination protection in housing, employment, and public accommodations to LGBT citizens. The AFA of Michigan is raising money to block the ordinance.
For more information, to volunteer or to donate visit http://ferndalefavor.com.
October 22 event: Citizens for a Fair Ferndale is sponsoring a forum to discuss Ferndale’s human rights ordinance and Proposal 2, which would ban affirmative action in Michigan. The forum will take place from 2-4 p.m. at Xhedo’s on Nine Mile in Ferndale. For more information call (248) 541-1434, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.fairferndale.org.