Photo courtesy of Nathan Triplett, EQMI

LGBT Non-Discrimination Ordinance Advances in Jackson

Jackson City Council Votes 4-3 Tuesday to Prohibit Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

BY BTL STAFF

JACKSON - More than 400 people came to the Jackson City Council Meeting on Tuesday night in support of an LGBT non-discrimination ordinance, which advanced 4-3.

Councilman Daniel Greer told MLive.com, "it's the largest crowd I've seen since starting as a council member in 1997."

The report said the line to get in the second-floor council members chambers at Jackson City Hall grew out the front door so city leaders relocated the meeting to the Michigan Theatre of Jackson.

Community members pack Jackson City Hall Tuesday night. Photo courtesy of Nathan Triplett, EQMI

Of the 86 individuals to address the city council regarding the ordinance, 82 were in favor, three were against and one said the city needed to study it more. This lasted more than two hours and 23 minutes - plus a 13-minute bathroom break.

The long-discussed NDO progresses forward following the 4-3 vote, but still has another hurdle. The ordinance must pass through two readings to become official, and the informal discussion at the Oct. 11 meeting does not qualify as a reading, Mayor Bill Jors announced at the start of the meeting.

The issue resurfaces at the next council meeting Feb. 7, according to MLive.com. If it receives four affirmative votes, the NDO goes into effect 30 days later.

"For seventeen years, tireless advocates in Jackson have pushed for the passage of an ordinance that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. Last night's vote marks a milestone - the ordinance has never made it this far in the local legislative process. Jackson should celebrate that accomplishment, but also recognize that we're not done yet and can't let up now. It's more important than ever that residents and business owners contact the city council and express their support for this ordinance and show up in force at the next city council meeting to see to it that the Jackson City Council finishes the job," said Nathan Triplett, director of public policy and political action at Equality Michigan.

The NDO prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, public housing and public accommodations. If no conciliation agreement is made between parties, a civil infraction is given with a fine of up to $500 per each day of the violation.

Consumers Energy Vice President Daniel Malone spoke for the second meeting in a row, telling council that the largest employer in the county supports the inclusiveness the NDO would provide, as indicated by a letter submitted to Councilman Derek Dobies in November 2016.

According to Malone's talking points, he said, "Jackson is in competition for residents, business, and employees, and inclusiveness is an important factor that attracts all three. Beyond the important issues of fairness and equality lies an additional reason for cities to take matters of equality seriously - it is good business. But this isn't just about good business or an inclusive community - it's about doing what's right for so many who are negatively impacted by discrimination - and it happens right here in Michigan."

Malone points to the cases of discrimination the Michigan Department of Civil Rights has started logging as more have been brought forward in recent years. He reiterates for the council that in 34 states, including Michigan, it remains legal to discriminate against LGBT people and that roughly 41 Michigan communities have stood up and taken a stand.

"In the absence of a state or federal law prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination, local nondiscrimination ordinances like this are the one surefire way to provide people with legal protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity," said Triplett. "They are also key to building political support for legislative action on Elliott-Larsen. In the face of a hostile White House and Congress, and a difficult political landscape in Lansing, local campaigns like this are going to be critical component of any effort to advance LGBT equality in Michigan and across the country."

Photo courtesy of Nathan Triplett, EQMI

How Council Members Voted

Derek Dobies, Sixth Ward

Vote: Yes

Dobies began the discussion of the NDO on Tuesday with the exact words he spoke before council in September 2014.

"I think that it's unacceptable in 2017 that here in Michigan, hard-working employees can be fired from their job, (denied) public accommodations and residents can be evicted or refused housing just because of who they are," he said.

After describing the 17-year process it's taken to get to this vote, Dobies said this ordinance help attract future residents and businesses.

"We should send a message to the rest of Michigan, to the LGBT community and to their allies, that if you love Jackson, Jackson will love you back," Dobies said. "We will welcome you, protect you and we will rebuild our city with you in it."

Daniel Greer, Third Ward

Vote: No

The issue of discrimination toward the LGBT community would be best dealt with at the state and federal level, Greer said Tuesday. He complimented the supporters for their efforts, however.

"I'm literally blown away by the turnout, the activism," Greer said. "It's wonderful and I thank you all. This is our government in action. The people are the city. Your voices have been heard this evening."

Greer added the ordinance is poor policy and exposes the city to litigation.

"I don't want anyone to feel hated. I don't want anyone to feel like they're discriminated against, based on anything," Greer said. "We should all love one another. At this point, I cannot vote for this ordinance the way it is written."

Andrew Frounfelker, Fifth Ward

Vote: Yes

Frounfelker spoke for two minutes on the topic, explaining how passing the NDO opens up opportunity for the city.

"I look at this ordinance as just another way we can have a tool that gives people that feel they're not given a voice, a chance to have a voice," he said.

Freddie Dancy, Second Ward

Vote: Yes

Dancy admitted he didn't know what an NDO was when he started on city council. When he learned about what it was, he did not support it.

"At the time, I was totally against the NDO," Dancy said. "I just felt like my religion, my faith wouldn't let me go that way. I had a talk with my pastor, we sat down and we talked about what every human has a right for. A right to live where you want to live, work where you want and not be discriminated against."

Dancy has become one of the council's biggest supporters of the ordinance.

"For me, this is a no-brainer," Dancy said. "My job is to do what I think in my heart. I prayed and asked God for guidance. I hope this goes to a second reading and we can do what we should do."

Craig Pappin, Fourth Ward

Vote: No

Pappin, an attorney in Jackson, had concerns about the effects an NDO could have on the community.

"I am concerned about it not protecting the rights of those who may be wrongfully accused of discrimination," Pappin said. "It could ruin somebody's reputation, it could severely damage their business and I'm concerned about things like that."

He wasn't consulted about the language of the ordinance, Pappin said, and added he doesn't want to see people discriminated against.

"This version of the NDO, as written right now, I don't feel I can support it," Pappin said. "I don't think all the protections are in there."

Arlene Robinson, First Ward

Vote: Yes

Robinson was the most torn of the group, but provided the necessary fourth affirmative vote to move the ordinance forward.

"I'm a little floored, after tonight," Robinson said. "We're all human. We all have breaths. I'm just very confused on how we've had so many issues that came before us tonight and nothing has been done about that."

Robinson would not commit to voting 'yes' again in two weeks.

"I'm really confused. I'm going to vote in support tonight, but there are some concerns that came from other council members tonight, with the legal side on the city of Jackson. I don't want to jeopardize our city," Robinson said. "I'm not saying that I won't support you on the second reading. However, I really do need to get that understanding of where we are legally as the city of Jackson."

Mayor Bill Jors

Vote: No

Jors was the only city council member to not give his opinion on the ordinance before the vote. He also passed on council member comment at the end of the meeting.

Previously, Jors said the decision should be made through a public vote, going on the May ballot. Many commenters spoke against the initiative being put on the ballot, however, during Tuesday's meeting.

"Show me a benefit, show me a need," Jors said earlier in January. "And I will certainly back it 100 percent."

Triplett said, "Opponents of the Jackson ordinance have a big problem - they are basing their opposition on a combination of hyperbolic hypotheticals and straw men. Here in Michigan we have the benefit of nearly 45 years of lived experience with non-discrimination ordinances just like this one in 41 other communities across the state, none of which substantiates any of the fears or concerns being advanced. The proposed ordinance contains extensive due process requirements on par with those contained in both state and federal non-discrimination laws. These procedures are well-established, tested, and proven. The ordinance outlines a detailed complaint and investigation process and explicitly prohibits anyone from providing false information to any authorized individual charged with investigating a discrimination complaint. Frankly, this ordinance contains far more protection against wrongful accusation or citation than you'd find for essentially any other civil infraction established by the city code in Jackson."

Read more MLive.com coverage of the Tuesday night meeting online.
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