Andrew Trzaska | March 12, 2012
Muskegon’s City Commission moved toward adding non-discrimination clauses to its employment and housing policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity at its work session Monday night.
Religion, gender, race and other attributes already receive protection under the city’s equal opportunity hiring practices and housing regulations. Several people, including Muskegon resident Roberta King, spoke at Monday’s commission work session in favor of passing similar non-discrimination provisions covering lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, a portion of the community commonly referred to as LGBT.
King first brought the recommendation to city manager Bryon Mazade back in 2011. King described the city’s policies as “already generous”, and looked to round out the city’s policies to a segment she felt were still not covered by the policy.
Currently it is not illegal in Michigan to discriminate against someone for their gender identity or sexual orientation when renting or selling a house or when hiring or firing. King listed the 18 cities around Michigan that have chosen to enact LGBT anti-discrimination policies, the first being East Lansing just over 40 years ago.
Also included, among others: Ann Arbor, Douglas, Grand Ledge, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Saugatuck, Ypsilanti, Kalamazoo and, most recently, Flint.
Erin Wilson, a Grand Rapids resident who grew up in Muskegon and still returns weekly to visit family, spoke against discrimination of all kinds.
“I come back here almost every weekend,” said Wilson. “This place is really where my heart is. I think it would be a really good sign [to pass this] because there are different kinds of discrimination. I think it would be good to say that none of it makes any sense”.
Saying the city should be “ahead of the curve” as other communities begin to recognize discrimination against the LGBT community, King stated that some businesses “demand” these policies before they locate in a community.
“We need to be on the right side of history on this particular issue,” said King.
Business consultant and community leader Gloria White Gardner echoed the economic benefits of non-discrimination.
“This county is attempting to grow in many, many areas,” said Gardner. “If we are attempting to hire people and make Muskegon a wonderful place for many people to live in… There are groups that are really left out of consideration.”
Commissioners Willie German and Byron Turnquist discussed how the amendment to add the provision would be worded; specific wording naming each group could invite other groups to seek explicit protections, though a blanket statement may not achieve the concrete goal. King stated that the former option would get more to the point, and suggested the city look at the language in Kalamazoo’s policy as a model.
The work session saw the recommendation turn to city manager Mazade, who will direct staff to draw up language for the commission to vote on in the coming weeks.