|Apinda Mpako, Pan Africa ILGA|
|Apinda Mpako, Pan Africa ILGA|
Gay and lesbian rights are not an issue in the city of Muskegon.
There was no drama – not even a word of opposition – when a city resident asked the Muskegon City Commission to approve an addition to its hiring and housing policies to include “lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender” to the city anti-discrimination policies.
Commissioners heard Monday from Roberta King, 3393 Fulton, with a request to add the LGBT language into city policies that already protect other classes of people based on race, gender and religion among others.
After hearing from two other citizens in support of the request, commissioners briefly discussed the topic. Commissioners seemed in unanimous agreement in directing City Manager Bryon Mazade to work with the city attorney to craft the correct language for final commission approval.
“To me this is cut and dry … we need to take action and move forward,” Commissioner Larry Spataro said of the proposed LGBT inclusion. “This is not an issue. At the city, we pick the best candidate for each job and don’t discriminate. There is no reason not to add this.”
King, who addressed the commission on the need for such a policy, said after the meeting that she was “proud” of the city’s reaction. She said she raised the gay and lesbian rights issue now that other communities such as Holland are struggling with it in hopes Muskegon would make a statement of being a city open to all.
“The commission reaction pleases me greatly,” said King, who lives in the city but is the vice president of marketing and PR for the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.
King made the argument to commissioners that the stated protection of the LGBT community is an economic issue as more and more companies would want such a policy in the city they do business and entrepreneurs looking to start new businesses might seek the same.
“Muskegon should be a head of the curve on this,” King told commissioners, saying the first gay and lesbian rights policy enacted by a city was East Lansing 40 years ago. Today, 17 other local governments in Michigan have adopted the policy, she said.
“Muskegon needs to be on the right side of the history of this particular issue,” King said.
The LGBT anti-discrimination policy was supported by two other citizens who came to the commission’s work session to address the issue.
“To pass this would be a good sign,” said Erin Wilson of Grand Rapids, who said he grew up in Muskegon and still has strong family ties to the city.
Appearing with his three small children, he said: “I have a wife so I have no skin in this game. But I’d be proud if the city approved it.”
Gloria White Gardner, a local business consultant and former head of the Urban League of Greater Muskegon, said she had been before the city commission many times asking that people who have been discriminated against receive full recognition.
“I want to add my voice for you to strongly consider this language so that everyone is included,” White Gardner said. “The county is attempting to grow and this will help. We have to support groups who are left out of consideration.”
The only suggestion from commissioners was that instead of naming the LGBT community, more generic terms such as “sexual orientation” and “sexual identification” might be more inclusive as other groups who might come forward in the future. King said the city should be specific in naming the LGBT groups.
Mazade told The Chronicle that the city may include the LGBT groups into its anti-discrimination policies but there is a bill pending in the Michigan Legislature that would keep such language from all local government policies. If approved by the state, such a law would nullify city policies.