Southfield City Council Meeting on Monday, Jan. 26 (BTL photo/AJ Trager)

Southfield Passes Non-Discrimination Ordinance

BY AJ TRAGER

SOUTHFIELD - Southfield City Council unanimously voted Jan. 26 to pass a city-wide non-discrimination ordinance that would add gender identity and sexual orientation protections to a list of protected classes.

Southfield joined 35 other Michigan cities and townships which provide non-discrimination protections to its citizens by passing an amendment to it's human rights ordinance.

"Every time we expand 'We The People' we are better off for it," State Rep. Jeremy Moss said after the vote. "Unfortunately the atmosphere in Lansing won't take this up, but it says something when a city of about 75,000 residents that live in it, or upwards of 200,000 people who work in it, are now protected based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. That's a lot of clout to bring up to Lansing for me, as a State Legislator, in trying to push forward an Elliott-Larsen amendment."

Moss introduced the ordinance when he was serving on the Southfield City Council in December 2013. The legislation was referred to the city's attorney for review and dismissed from the council table in early 2014. The ordinance was reintroduced this year by Acting Council President Sylvia Jordan.

Language now directly reads that the ordinance will "prohibit discrimination in Southfield in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations based upon race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, height, weight, marital status, physical or mental disability, family status, sexual orientation or gender identity of another person," City Attorney Sue Ward read at the meeting.

Former councilwoman Barbara Talley, of the Martin Luther King Task Force, spoke during the resident response time. She was the first black woman to serve on the Southfield City Council and was in complete support of the ordinance, recounting a time when she, too, was discriminated against for who she was.

"I don't know if any of you on city council have ever been discriminated against. But I have. And so I'm coming from a different point of view," Talley said. "... However, on that City Council, I used to sit there before any of you sat there. And we worked very very hard for inclusion and diversity in the city. I want to remind each of you of the oath that you took. You really should not be sitting on City Council if you think that your denial (of the ordinance) is valid."

Tensions rose as Jordan was criticized by a resident for changing her mind to be in support of the ordinance. The speaker claimed Jordan was trying to write her own history. Just before the vote, the council president then stated that she had always been in support of LGBT rights.

"I worked at The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as an investigator for over eight years in the '80s. And we fought for civil rights and stood up to discrimination," Jordan responded. "I have members of my family in the gay community. I have members of my church in the gay community. And for me to not approve a human rights ordinance would not be the right thing to do, because I totally agree with equal treatment for all. So I want to make that very clear."

Other members of the community who spoke include Jay Kaplan, the ACLU LGBT Project's staff attorney and longtime Southfield resident; Cindy Clardy; Julia Music, organizer of Ferndale Pride; Beth Green; Faith Robinson, Chair of the Jewish Gay Network of Michigan; Stephanie English; and Barbara Seldon.

"I couldn't have said it better than the people who said it this evening; the diversity of Southfield was reflected in the people who spoke and how they viewed the issue. I would simply say it's clearly just the right thing to do," Councilman Ken Siver said after motioning for a call to vote.

"Equality Michigan appreciates all of the amazing work that Jeremy Moss and Brenda Lawrence did to make Southfield the 36th city in Michigan to pass a local LGBT inclusive Human Rights ordinance and we hope that this continues to put pressure on the legislature in Lansing to take up this issue on a statewide level," Greg Varnum, director of external relations at Equality Michigan, said.

The council passed the ordinance unanimously with a 5-0 vote. Councilman Sid Lantz was not present for the meeting. Changes to city law are expected to take effect in March.

"This is going to make Southfield economically competitive, welcoming of those who want inclusive communities, diverse communities," Moss said. "And it's the right thing to do. And I am excited to be a Southfielder tonight."


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