Lansing introduces comprehensive human rights ordinance

By |2006-11-02T09:00:00-05:00November 2nd, 2006|News|

LANSING – The Lansing City Council took the first step towards the passage of a comprehensive human rights ordinance with the introduction of a draft ordinance. The City passed a similar law in 1996, only to see it voted down by residents.
The draft was unanimously accepted by the council and a public hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 20 at the Lansing City Council chambers at Lansing City Hall. The new ordinance could be passed as soon as December, and take effect in the beginning of the new year.
“I am unbelievably proud to introduce a human rights ordinance with all of my colleagues,” said freshman council member at large Kathie Dunbar as she introduced the draft ordinance. “The issues that make this necessary have no gone away. There’s still discrimination happening in areas of our city, even if we don’t want to admit it.”
All eight members of the council were sponsors of the legislation, including Lansing City Council person Sandy Allen, who in 1996 opposed the ordinance.
Allen said at the time she was newly elected and just getting to know the people she represented on Lansing’s south side. She felt they were opposed to it. “Personally, I was in favor, but I am not here to speak for me. I felt the South Side was not ready for that.”
Now she says her Ward is supportive, and felt it important to support the ordinance. She thinks it will pass, too, with little controversy. “More and more people are finding that in their family there is a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, and they are seeing it up close and getting a greater perspective and they are becoming more accepting.”
Unlike 10 years ago when the council was acrimonious from the start on the ordinance and resides were out in force to talk about it, the introduction of the new ordinance received barely a notice by the nearly 50 residents in attendance – only five mentioned the ordinance, while 40 others railed about other city matters.
As openly gay city clerk Chris Swope read the ordinance title into the record to formally accept it as introduced, Dunbar, took deep breaths, smiled and even wiped away a few tears. When the vote was complete, four people – the only audience left in the chamber burst into applause.
Dunbar said the llcal media has not focused on the gay issues presented in the ordinance, rather looking at how the ordinance is broader than the State’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights law. Namely, media is focusing on the inclusion of Military discharge status and housing status.
Dunbar said in an interview after the council meeting that she would likely move to strike the military discharge provisions from the ordinance, since when she wrote the ordinance she was under the impression most gays are discharged dishonorably from the military for being gay.
The housing status is designed to address the issues faced by homeless populations, which Dunbar said is a large segment of Lansing’s population. “The number one problem in assisting some one in becoming self-sufficient and thus no longer homeless is they need a job. You can’t get a job without a permnant address. It’s a catch-22.”
Anti-gay organizer Bernie Miesner, who spearheaded the 1996 election to repeal the ordinance, has told local newspapers he would organize again if the new ordinance passed. Miesner is no longer a resident of Lansing.
Dunbar is not phased or bothered by the threats from Miesner. “I don’t think he’ll get the signatures (to get it on the ballot) and if he does, he’ll fail,” she said. Dunbar’s confidence comes from the knowledge that Ingham county was one of only two counties in the state to reject Proposal 2 last year.
So why is the self-described soccer mom of four spear heading the ordinance drive now, less than a year into office? “I teach my kids by what I do. I want them to grow up in a world where tolerance is the norm. Unfortunately, that’s something we have to legislate.”

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