LGBT community unprotected under non-discrimination laws

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By Jennifer Swanchara
Meridian Times staff writer

Discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders is legal in Meridian Township unless the board of trustees passes the Human Relations Ordinance. Map of Meridian Township with gay pride flag overlaid.

The ordinance draft is designed to protect citizens from discrimination or harassment and allow them to enjoy their civil and political rights.

LGBT advocates attended the Oct. 1 Meridian Township board meeting to share their opinions on the ordinance.

Haslett residence Amanda Niven wanted to show the board of trustees the ordinance would serve a purpose and affect real people.

“I went to the meeting to set the record straight that we do have a problem with discrimination in Meridian Township,” said Niven. “The LGBT citizens of Meridian Township need this protection.”

Several advocates supported Niven.

Emily Dievendorf, managing director for Equality Michigan, said her organization is working throughout the state to try and pass these local non-discriminatory ordinances because statewide the civil rights act, the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act, does not cover the LGBT communities.

“Until the state amends the Civil Rights Act, we have to ask the municipalities to move individually to protect their own citizens,” said Dievendorf.

Milton L. Scales, Meridian Township trustee, has stated his opposition to the ordinance by saying it does not protect anyone.

“The penalty for discrimination and the penalty for driving without a seatbelt should not be the same,” Scales said. “Me voting for that is discrimination in itself. I would be officially sanctioning discrimination by voting for that and I can’t do that.”

“The simple fix to this is for the state to address this and amend the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act to include more categories and protect more people,” said Scales. “A $75 fine is not protection and it is not equal.”

In Michigan, 28 municipalities have passed a discrimination protection ordinance. East Lansing and Lansing have protection against discriminatory practices in housing and employment.

Meridian Township has protection against discrimination in housing, but if this ordinance is passed citizens would also be protected from employment discrimination.

Dievendorf says Meridian Township would be able to track and keep records of discrimination if the ordinance passes. According to Dievendorf, the ordinance would discourage people from harassing and treating others as second-class citizens.

In Meridian Township and throughout the state Niven said she has experienced discrimination and needs to tell her 3-year-old son people have bad feelings that have nothing to do with them.

“LGBT citizens of Meridian Township are just asking for what everybody else already has and the way everyone else is protected” said Dievendorf. “That is nothing extra and no huge change in the life of anybody who is not LGBT.”

The Human Relations Ordinance will be revisited during the next Meridian Township board meeting on Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. at the Municipal Complex.

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