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Hamtramck ordinance passed to ballot, fight continues for support

By |2008-08-07T09:00:00-04:00August 7th, 2008|Uncategorized|

by Jessica Carreras

On Tuesday, July 30, the Hamtramck clerk’s office confirmed the signatures on the petition to repeal the city’s recently passed human rights ordinance, putting the measure on Nov. 4’s ballot.
The ordinance was originally passed in a 6-1 vote by the Hamtramck City Council, but was immediately challenged by Ypsilanti resident Jay McNeely, backed by Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan. On July 8, McNeely turned in 60 pages of signatures for a petition aiming to repeal the decision and send it to the voters. However, after extensive review, he was seven signatures short of the necessary 417 signatures.
McNeely was given 15 days to come up with the remaining signatures, and did so, effectively rendering the city council’s decision obsolete and putting the decision on hold until November.
If voted into law, the ordinance would read that discrimination on the basis of, among other things, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression would be illegal in such areas as housing, employment and city services.
Councilmember Scott Klein, who has been part of the effort to educate the community about the ordinance and urge them to vote ‘yes,’ is unphased.
“I think that in the end, people in Hamtramck will vote in favor of the anti-discrimination ordinance,” Klein said. “I don’t think it’s going to be close. I think it’ll be by a wide margin.”
Klein, who is the only openly-gay member of Hamtramck City Council, has been working with the Triangle Foundation and Michigan Equality to organize lobbyists and advocates for the ordinance. Their Web site,, is keeping up-to-date on news about the ordinance, as well as attempting to educate people about its necessity and raise money to help fight for its passage.
Meanwhile, the opposition has been organizing on the other side, holding several meetings throughout the past few weeks and discussing their issues with the language of the ballot. Commentors have ranged from those wanting to keep Hamtramack diverse and protected to those who have issues with the protection of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
State Representative Bert Johnson (D), who was recently endorsed in the primaries by both the Michigan Equality Political Action Committee and PridePAC of Triangle Foundation, attended the meeting against the ordinance on July 22. “Hamtramck has to remain a very diverse and inviting community, and it has to be the kind of community that people can feel comfortable living in,” Johnson said at the meeting. “We’re a very tight knit community here in Hamtramck. It’s important to preserve that and to respect what it is that other people feel about certain issues.”
His presence and comments sparked anger in some in the LGBT community, including Klein. “It is clear to me that Mr. Johnson is stating gay people are to be left out in the cold, on the unemployment line, and looking in at businesses,” Klein said in an e-mail sent out last week. The e-mail was accompanied by links to YouTube videos of the “anti-gay” meeting.
Michigan Equality Executive Director Derek Smiertka, who has been one of the primary organizers since the ordinance was first challenged, insists that Johnson is supportive. “I spoke with Rep. Johnson personally after the fact,” said Smiertka. “It was clear that he was supportive of discussion and people’s rights…I raised the question of ‘Are you in support of the ordinance?’ and indeed he is.”
Attendees of the meeting who have voiced thier disapproval of the ordinance, however, include Hamtramck City Councilmembers Kathy Gordon and Abdul Algazali, who originally voted in support of the ordinance.
Those who are clearly in support, however, have been working to raise money and educate voters. Klein claims that they are picking up support in the Arabic community, while Smiertka adds that money and volunteers are continually being added to the fight.
According to Smiertka, over $2,500 has been pledged in support of the ordinance, including $1,000 that the organizers have on hand for advocacy purposes. “The organizing is great, and there are really dedicated people on the ground,” he said. “But we could certainly use some help.”
As such, Smiertka said he hopes that other cities in Michigan who have successfully passed similar measure will step up to help fundraise, donate and support their cause.
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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.