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One Royal Oak field director Megan Cece, right, Jen Weaver and Aaron Aptel want many others to join them in volunteering on the campaign to reinstate Royal Oak's inclusive human rights ordinance. Weaver works at the American Federation of Teachers and Aptel is a college student at Oberlin College in Ohio.
Assumptions Don't Help In Royal Oak Campaign, Volunteers Do Though
By Crystal A. Proxmire
Originally printed 8/29/2013 (Issue 2135 - Between The Lines News)
ROYAL OAK - People are not yet turning out in droves to support the One Royal Oak Campaign. And the lackluster support has campaign organizers scratching their heads and crossing their fingers.
A rally held at 515 in Royal Oak brought out a handful of interested volunteers, mainly Affirmations regulars, to hear a panel talk about the ballot initiative that will be voted on at the city's Nov. 5 election. But many more are needed if the proposal is going to pass.
Proposal A is to uphold an inclusive human rights ordinance in Royal Oak. The ordinance was passed earlier this year by the city commission, but was suspended by petition, forcing the matter to go to a vote of the public.
Well-funded opposition is actively fighting against the ordinance. Just Royal Oak has launched a website and social media campaign touting myths about the homosexual lifestyle and misleading the public with the idea that equal rights are actually special rights. Currently in Michigan, civil rights law prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, or marital status - but not sexual orientation and gender identity.
"Many people still do not know that in Michigan you can be fired for being gay or for your gender expression," said Jon Hoadley of Unity Michigan. "We need to educate people about this and why local ordinances are important." Hoadley has worked with several cities and townships around the state to put local protections in place. There are currently at least 24 municipalities that have ordinances like the one Royal Oak voters could reinstate on Nov. 5.
There are many obstacles ahead though. Kyle DuBac is one of the Royal Oak commissioners who introduced the ordinance. "This is going to be a low turnout election," he said. "We know what kind of numbers we are looking at. One in three of the voters are going to be 65 and older, and 8,000 people will vote." There are almost 50,000 eligible voters living in Royal Oak, according to the 2010 census.
One Royal Oak Field Director Megan Cece said the group is aiming for 5,500 "yes" votes. That's going to require lots of knocking on doors and making phone calls to registered voters. "We need volunteer efforts," she said. "We're running on a skeleton crew. We are working our butts off 24/7, but we're also putting this back on you. Get involved. Get others to come out and volunteer."
Cece said that the ordinance is not just important to Royal Oak residents, but that other communities are looking at what happens in Royal Oak as a way to see if this can be done in other cities. "The more cities have this, the more Lansing will know there is public support for amending Elliott Larsen, the statewide nondiscrimination legislation."
Dave Garcia, executive director of Affirmations, spoke on a panel at the recent rally. "It seems to me as Affirmations has been involved with this effort from the very beginning; I have not seen the kind of fire under our behinds that I saw in Kalamazoo. When I was the executive director there we passed 1856, the Kalamazoo ordinance very similar to the one here in Royal Oak. And I think that there are people that honestly believe that just putting it on the ballot, let people read it, they'll read it, we'll win. We don't need to spend any money. We don't need to have any organized campaigns. It's Royal Oak. My God, it's the capital of 515 and Pronto. And I think that if we have that attitude we're going to lose."
He added that, "people forget that although the downtown area is very gay friendly, the surrounding area is pretty conservative."
Hoadley, in a later phone interview, said that even with the demographics, he is hopeful that One Royal Oak can win. "Polling shows that in all age groups, and even among conservatives, there is growing support for equality," he said. "We just have to educate the public that this is an issue."
To learn more about the One Royal Oak campaign and the ordinance that is on the ballot, visit the campaign website at http://oneroyaloak.wordpress.com/.
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