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MI City Gay Rights Ordinance Thwarted, For Now.

Royal OakRecently in the city of Royal Oak, MI, the city passed a human rights ordinance that made it illegal for all business within the city to discriminate against LGBT people.

The new law was to go into effect March, 2013, but a few business owners and some citizens of Royal Oak decided to start a petition to block the law from going into effect.

According to Pride Source/Between The Line (a Metro Detroit LGBT publication), it appears that enough petition signatures were turned in at Royal Oak City Hall on April 2, to prevent the new ordinance to go into effect. This petition may force the ordinance to go before the voters in November of this year.

One Royal Oak resident, Fred Birchard, 75, who campaigned against a similar ordinance in 2001, told the Detroit Free Press  that he turned in 1,200 signatures, almost twice the minimum 746 needed to block the enactment of the ordinance.

If enough of the signatures are validated by the Royal City Clerk, then the city commissioners will take up the ordinance at their April 15 meeting. At that meeting, they will decide whether to drop the ordinance altogether  or vote to place it on the November ballot.

Local residents, such as openly gay city commissioner Jim Rasor and local business owners are not happy that the ordinance has been blocked.

Jim Rasor stated that if the signatures are validated, he has a high level of confidence that the commission will vote to put the ordinance on the ballot in November.

“We have a democratic process and if that [a] number of voters thinks it should be put to a vote in November, then so be it,” said Rasor. “In listening to Mr. Birchard, he thinks God talks to him directly and that what he thinks God says to him trumps civil Law.”

Rasor is also a well know attorney in Royal Oak and is often attained in LGBT discrimination cases because Federal, State and Local laws do not recognize basic rights of LGBT people (perfect example of the importance of ENDA).

Raso states –

“If someone’s boss walks into their office and fires them because the boss just found out they are gay, then I have no recourse under current Federal and State law.” He goes on to say, “that just feels un-American to me.”

Many residents and business owners have their own opinion regarding the blockage of the ordinance –

“I’m not pleased it was thwarted,” said Keith Howarth, owner of Noir Leather in Royal Oak. “I feel it’s a small minority of the older Royal Oak population and not representative at all of the new Royal Oak population. I think it is ignorant of the people who are thwarting it. It’s 2013 and we need to understand that there is diversity among us and everyone is welcome in Royal Oak.”

“My partner and I were proud as citizens of Royal Oak that the city commissioners had made a wise and just decision,” said Kate Wade who has lived in Royal Oak with her partner, Eileen Brandeis, for over 25 years. “We question why when a governing body has made a decision in favor of equality for a minority group it can be challenged by an individual and put to a majority vote.”

Royal Oak would have been the 22nd city in Michigan to enact a non-discrimination ordinance. The neighboring city of Ferndale, which has hosted Detroit’s Motor City Pride for years until  it was recently moved to Downtown Detroit, passed an ordinance several years ago and Pleasant Ridge, another neighboring city, discussed a similar ordinance at their city council meeting April 9.

“I’m disappointed that residents went the petition route,” said Dave Coulter, mayor of Ferndale who specifically addressed a frequent objection to non-discrimination ordinances that enactment uses valuable policing resources. “I spoke before the Royal Oak Commission (when they were considering the ordinance) and shared our experience in Ferndale. There have been very few incidents that involved the police. In fact quite the opposite. Passing the ordinance is one of the reasons that Ferndale has been as successful as we have been because it says to everyone that we are diverse and welcome everyone.”

If the ordinance goes to popular vote in November, it will be up to the business owners and residents to educate the residents of Royal Oak on the importance of a law of this nature.

“The challenge to the ordinance represents a small number of voters in Royal Oak. Royal Oak overwhelmingly supports fairness and equality, as the commission did and voters will in November,” said Jon Hoadley, director of Unity Michigan Coalition, a group that represents six of the largest LGBT organizations in Michigan.

“I can’t speak too much (about anti-LGBT sentiments) because Five 15 does so well with our alternative show,” said Gary Baglio, owner of Five 15 Store in downtown Royal Oak. “Our Drag Queen Bingo is so wildly popular that I hope it will help educate people as to why it’s so important to support this ordinance.”

Personally speaking as someone who lives local to Royal Oak and Ferndale, both cities have always been incredibly diverse and extremely accepting of LGBT people. Five 15 bookstore is an amazing LGBT bookstore located in the heart of Royal Oak and is incredibly popular with customers of all kinds. The city of Ferndale has always done what ever they could to help support the fight for LGBT equality. I have every faith that not only will this ordinance get voted to go to a popular vote in November, but the residents of Royal Oak will all stand up and tell their city that they ARE in favor of a non-discrimination act.

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