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Ordinance battle in Jackson

By | 2009-08-20T09:00:00-04:00 August 20th, 2009|News|

By Caitlin M. Foyt

JACKSON, Mich. – People of the city of Jackson will just have to continue to wait for full protection from bias in areas of housing and employment.
The anti-discrimination ordinance aimed at hampering prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in addition to 18 other like categories was rejected by the city council last Tuesday night, Aug. 11 in a 5-2 vote.

“There are many federal and state laws that cover the same thing,” said Councilmember Robert Howe, one of the five members of the council who voted in opposition of the ordinance. “It was too lengthy, too ambigious and it’s just duplications. I just didn’t see the need for it.”
The Civil Rights Ordinance would protect citizens by ensuring that those who treat others unfairly face recourse by the city. It uses similar language to what 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies use to deal with discrimination in their places of employment and closely resembles those in place in 17 other cities in Michigan, including Grand Rapids, Detroit, Lansing and Ann Arbor.
Similar ordinances are still in limbo in both Hamtramck and Kalamazoo. The former lost their battle at the ballot during last November’s election. The latter will see the issue on the ballot this coming november.
Julie Nemecek, co-director of Michigan Equality, said she thinks the reason the vote went the way it did has to do with uncertainty and ignorance with not understanding the issues. “Historically, Jackson has been a conservative community but the city itself is more progressive than the suburbs surrounding it,” she said. “I think it has a good chance of passing eventually. How soon? I can’t tell.”
Many people from the community spoke during the meeting, most of them in opposition to the ordinance. “It’s a little bit frustrating,” said Kathleen Conley, who chairs the Human Relations Commission, the organization that first introduced the ordinance. “It’s not like a court case where you can respond. You just have to sit and think, ‘How am I going to counter this in the future?'”
Conley said the commission is meeting this week to discuss how to move the ordinance forward.
Some options, she said, included putting the issue on the ballot this November, working closely with council members to address their individual concerns or back an ordinance which would only apply to city employees with hopes that it would set an example for the rest of the community.
“We have lots of things we can do here,” she said.
Councilmember Kenneth Gaiser was one of the two who voted in favor of the ordinance and he has hope for it. “I am ultimately in favor of human rights and dignity, period,” he said. “I would like to send a message to the world that you can come to Jackson to visit, to live or to work and you will be treated with dignity and you will have your rights and you will be safe, as long as you are a good person living within the law.”

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Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.