Photo courtesy of Adam Taylor

One Kalamazoo, one Michigan

West Michigan ordinance campaign draws supporters from across the state

by Jessica Carreras

The LGBT community in Lansing, Flint, Detroit - even Traverse City - is all part of Kalamazoo. At least that's what supporters of the city's anti-discrimination ordinance believe.

The proposed ordinance would protect LGBT people from discrimination in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations. Passed twice unanimously by the City Commission, it was rescinded both times due to signatures gathered by opponents and eventually forced onto the ballot.

Since then, the fight to encourage voters to keep the ordinance on the books come Nov. 3 has exploded. Every day, volunteers at One Kalamazoo - which heads up the effort - take and make calls to citizens of the city to ask for support. Every weekend, they are on the front porches, ringing doorbells and making sure that voters are as well informed as possible.

They opened their offices in early September, and have announced a steering committee that includes local PFLAG President Narda Beauchamp, Rev. Matthew Laney of the First Congregational United Church of Christ and former, current and hopeful members of the City Commission.

"We look forward to continuing a public conversation about the importance of protecting all hardworking Kalamazoo residents," said Jon Hoadley, campaign manager for 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."

The campaign has brought grassroots efforts to the forefront of its battle in unique ways: an online survey that decided the design of their lawn signs; canvassing opportunities that can be accomplished from one's home; use of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook for purposes of spreading updates about the campaign.

As of Oct. 20, their Facebook page had almost 3,000 fans.

And though the ordinance would only apply to housing, employment and accommodations in Kalamazoo, help has come to the west Michigan city from all across the state.

For some, like activist and former Michigan Equality Chair Derek Smiertka, it was just something that needed to be done.

"This is something we should do," the White Lake resident said on the eve of his One Kalamazoo canvassing experience. "There should be no such thing as a non-political gay or lesbian person. We should all be deeply involved and feel very concerned about what happens to our friends in Kalamazoo because it will happen to our friends in Lansing and in Detroit and in South Lyon. ... Unless we get involved and help, there's not going to be people who will come and help us when we need it."

Dave Garcia, the new executive director at the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center, agrees. Garcia, a native of the Flint area who also spent time in Ann Arbor, said that what he sees in his new home of Kalamazoo is a sense of family.

"We're all neighbors. There's a sense of community," he explained. "The LGBT community is unique in that we consider ourselves family - for a good reason. A lot of us lost our families when we came out. So because we have a unique sense of community, then what affects our neighbors affects us personally."

Garcia maintains that the resource center's role in the fight to keep the ordinance is one of information provider - to One Kalamazoo, supporters, media and opponents. "We can't support candidates, but we can support ordinances," he said. "We've officially sponsored One Kalamazoo and I've spoken on the ordinance's behalf personally."

Garcia made an appearance at Ann Arbor's OutFest on Sept. 20 to speak about the law. And though most of the attendees were from southeast Michigan, \aut\Bar co-owner Keith Orr, who organized the 2009 event, said he felt it was necessary to include information about the ordinance.

"One Kalamazoo is the big fight right now," he said of the city's local campaign. "It's the one in the front of people's minds. Obviously, there are other fights going on right now ... so it's not the only fight, but it is a big, public one and so it's really important that we're out there and win that one."

Apparently, Michigan heard the call for help.

"If we can help them, I think that maybe the next time another human rights ordinance goes through maybe in the middle of the state or another place, that they'll come out and help those folks as well," added Smiertka, who went canvassing with a group of about 20 southeast Michiganders on Oct. 10. "We're hoping that we can help out with that and maybe inspire others ... to get their own groups of friends together to do the same thing."

And One Kalamazoo is still asking for help, in the forms of both volunteers and monetary donations.

Currently, the campaign is working to raise enough money to keep running their pro-ordinance commercial on local TV stations. The ad has run 25 times with $2,500 raised just for that endeavor, and now they're shooting for 50 runs. They're also encouraging more people to canvass and to write letters to the editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette in support of the ordinance.

Less than two weeks remain until the vote comes down. Garcia believes that a win in Kalamazoo will be a boost of morale for the entire Michigan LGBT community.

"We're all hoping and looking for more political victories in our state," he said. "I think a lot of us are feeling pretty kicked and down and we need a victory. It's for the sake of Kalamazoo, but it's also just a message to be sent across the state that not everybody is against us."

To get involved, visit http://www.onekalamazoo.org or call their office at 269-903-2277.

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