by Jessica Carreras
KALAMAZOO – The non-discrimination ordinance set to protect LGBT citizens from prejudice in the areas of housing, employment and public services will go to a popular vote in November in Kalamazoo. The move to ballot had long been predicted by supporters of the initiative, but was held up by legislative process.
Originally passed in December by a unanimous vote by the Kalamazoo City Commission, the ordinance was rescinded after opponents turned in the necessary signatures. The process was repeated this summer after months of public debate on the topic and unsuccessful efforts to compromise on the language to appease both sides.
The opposition group, known as Kalamazoo Citizens Voting No to Special Rights Discrimination, submitted over 2,000 signatures to overturn the law on July 29, 1,624 of which were confirmed as valid by the city clerk. The ordinance was suspended and once again went to vote by the City Commission.
This time, the commission voted on Aug. 3 to send the measure straight to a public vote. The language will be voted on at their next meeting, scheduled to be held in mid August.
And on the side of supporters, months of planning resulted in the unveiling of a petition signature campaign of their own and a new campaign group called One Kalamazoo.
In a press conference at Kalamazoo City Hall on July 29, the Kalamazoo Alliance for Equality voiced their continued support of the ordinance, plus unveiled their Statement of Support project.
“We knew that after the city commission made history by unanimously passing the non-discrimination ordinance last month, that opponents of equality would begin circulating petitions to repeal the ordinance, ” explained KAFE chair Steve Gerike at the conference. “KAFE had a responsibility to show the other side of the story.
KAFE chose to do that with their Statement of Support project. KAFE members and supporters of the ordinance went door to door asking for signatures in support of non-discrimination, as well as lobbied at local events, including Kalamazoo Pride. They even collected signatures online at http://www.supportkalamazoo.com.
The effort resulted in over 5,700 signatures, unveiled at the press conference last Wednesday. “There are many things that make all of us different from each other, but one of the things that brings us together is that we can agree on this common factor: discrimination is wrong,” said KAFE member and local activist Terry Kuseske. “I hope that as we continue to educate the citizens of Kalamazoo about this ordinance, many more will join the thousands of people who’ve already signed in support of the ordinance.”
To assure that support continues to come in, supporters of the ordinance announced the One Kalamazoo campaign group on Aug 3. The effort will be led by area native Jon Hoadley, previously with the National Stonewall Democrats.
Though it was previously announced that Hoadley would not be heading the campaign, media coordinator for KAFE Shawn Brier explained that he made the decision to move back to Michigan to head the effort. “Now that there’s a certainty for a ballot measure coming in the fall, KAFE has become a partner with the One Kalamazoo campaign,” said Brier. “Previously, it was KAFE that was handling all the ins and outs of the signatures and all those different things.”
One Kalamazoo, which was conceived of by KAFE and Hoadley, will be responsible for educating the community about the ordinance and gathering more support leading up to Election Day on Nov. 3.
“We look forward to continuing a public conversation about the importance of protecting all hardworking Kalamazoo residents,” Hoadley said in an official statement from One Kalamazoo. “Everyone should have the chance to earn a living, provide a safe home for their families and otherwise enjoy what Kalamazoo has to offer without fear of being treated differently or unfairly.”