by Jessica Carreras
The anti-transgender and sexual orientation discrimination ordinance that passed in Hamtramck’s city council last month is being threatened.
The ordinance was passed in early June with a 6-1 vote that included the City Council and the mayor of Hamtramck. Councilmember Alan Shulgon was the only one to oppose the measure, which would expand the city’s human rights ordinance to include protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
On July 8, however, 60 pages of signatures for a petition that aims to move the ordinance to the voters in November were turned in. The petition was funded by Ypsilanti resident Jay McNeely and backed by the American Family Association of Michigan and its president, Gary Glenn. Both men are known local opponents of the LGBT community.
According to Hamtramck Councilmember Scott Klein, 363 signatures were verified as valid as of Friday, July 11. The city clerk’s office stated that the petition will be officially approved or denied by July 22. If approved, the ordinance will be placed on the ballot for voters to decide. If denied, McNeely will have an additional 15 days to come up with the necessary signatures, or else the petition will fail. A total of 417 signatures are needed.
Klein, along with Michigan Equality executive director Derek Smiertka and Triangle Foundation director of policy Sean Kosofsky, all believe that the petition will be approved and the measure will end up on the ballot.
However, all three also believe that, without a doubt, the voters will pass the ordinance into law. “I think the people of Hamtramck are really progressive,” said Klein, who is the only openly-gay member of the city council. “Out of 3,000 active voters, they’ve got less than 10 percent of the population that was willing to step up and say they didn’t want this.”
“I think this has one of the best chances of passing I’ve seen in a long time,” concurred Smiertka.
“I do think they’ll get enough signatures,” agreed Kosofsky. “I do think it will get on the ballot and I do think that we will win.”
Smiertka added that at this point, their hope is to get the ordinance onto the November ballot so that it can be passed as quickly as possible. “We encourage that it goes to the ballot rather than it be challenged and delayed,” he said. “At least in November of 2008 we’d have a fair and balanced decision.”
If the petition is delayed too long, the ordinance will remain inactive and will not be able to be voted on until the February of next year. “The longer it is suspended, the more chances discriminatory actions will occur,” Smiertka stressed. “We want to see this set in stone and we think a vote of the people is the best way to do that.”
However, they don’t plan to leave the decision to chance.
The petition to overturn the ordinance sparked efforts that include Hamtramck residents, Klein, and representatives of Michigan Equality and the Triangle Foundation. Smiertka and Kosofsky have both become integral players in the fight to urge voters to pass the ordinance when it appears on November’s ballot.
Several joint and separate meetings have been held to organize people who will serve as activists in the effort. “There’s a good cross section of the gay and straight communities stepping up to the plate,” said Klein.
“These are dedicated, organized residents who are fighting for this,” added Smiertka. “We (at Michigan Equality) need only to volunteer our time, because the people on the ground are 100-percent capable.”
Still, Michigan Equality and Triangle Foundation are contributing financial resources, as well as their time and expertise, to the effort. Smiertka even led a meeting at his home last week to set up a Web site for the movement.
Klein, who has been at the forefront of the movement to pass the ordinance, is especially fired up. “I wasn’t out in the open (about being gay) before this,” he admitted. “But I had to look people in the eye and make it personal for them.”
“When push comes to shove, it’s my responsibility to stand up so other people aren’t afraid. If I’m a little afraid, then others are really afraid,” he said. “So I’m fearless and I’m ready to take whatever swings and arrows they throw at me.”
Though the ordinance is being enacted primarily to protect Hamtramck’s LGBT community, which is sizeable, Klein noted that the ordinance is about ensuring that everyone in the city is protected from discrimination in areas including housing, employment and use of public facilities. “Hamtramck’s going to approve this ordinance at the end of the day. I have no doubt about that,” he said adamantly. “This isn’t a gay ordinance. It’s a human rights ordinance and it protects everybody who is vulnerable in Hamtramck.”