The Alligator Columns
Michigan ordinance similar to local Charter Amendment 1
For an off-year election, Nov. 3 is shaping up to be a pretty interesting day at the polls.
The more obvious reasons for this, and the ones getting the most attention from cable news channels, are a few races (including the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey and a quirky special election for the U.S. House seat in New York's 23rd congressional district) being decided Tuesday that some political folks are characterizing as bellwethers for the mood of the country.
Maybe more significantly, there are a few ballot initiatives being voted on that may serve as an indication of just how much progress the LGBT rights movement has made. Maine is voting on Question 1, which could reject via a "people's veto" a state law that legalized gay marriage; Washington state is voting on Referendum 71, which is asking voters to approve or reject a state law that expanded domestic partnership rights to match those of marriages.
But maybe the most relevant ballot initiative to Gainesville is the vote on Ordinance 1856, in which voters in Kalamazoo, Mich. will decide whether or not to approve a city ordinance that extended discrimination protections to LGBT people.
Why? Because what's playing out in Kalamazoo almost exactly matches Gainesville's vote on Charter Amendment 1, and eerily so.
Charter Amendment 1 was a proposed amendment to the Gainesville City Charter that had the intention of eliminating discrimination protections in areas like housing and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (Protections for many other categories, like race and religion, are already protected under state law.)
The group pushing for the amendment's passage, Citizens for Good Public Policy, said that protecting LGBT people constituted giving them "special rights" and insinuated that keeping protections for transgender people would lead to men entering girls' restrooms and raping them. Gainesville voters called BS both on that argument and the amendment itself, voting it down on March 24.
But evidently, what's past isn't prologue for the anti-LGBT protections group in Kalamazoo pushing for the rejection of the ordinance. (The "yes" vote in this case is the pro-LGBT protections vote; the "no" vote is the anti-LGBT protections vote.)
The group, Kalamazoo Citizens Voting No to Special Rights Discrimination, is trying to say that these protections, far from working against discrimination, are in fact discriminatory against people who don't want to work with or provide services to LGBT people. In other words, they're saying that Ordinance 1856 discriminates against people who want to discriminate (well, yeah) and that "elevating the beliefs of one group over those of another is indeed both a 'special right' and discrimination" (because not getting fired because of the person you love is, indeed, a special right).
Besides, even if we're going to follow Kalamazoo Citizens Voting No's argument that we shouldn't elevate one group's beliefs over another and that sexual orientation and gender identity is a choice, I'm skeptical that they're going to spearhead the effort to repeal discrimination protections based on religion.
And, of course, there's the "men in girls' restrooms" argument again. The group's talking points sheet is titled, "Is There a Man in Your Daughter's Bathroom?" And they've even pilfered wholesale Citizens for Good Public Policy's TV commercial featuring a pedophile following a little girl into the bathroom for a web ad, except they swapped the word "Gainesville" for "Kalamazoo." You can compare the two on YouTube — tinyurl.com/KzooAd and tinyurl.com/GvilleAd — if you're curious.
Perhaps the sneakiest thing Kalamazoo Citizens Voting No is doing is distributing signs and flyers that say "No Discrimination: Vote NO on Ord. 1856" — a clear attempt to hoodwink low-information voters into thinking that the "no" vote is the vote in favor of discrimination protections.
I'm not presumptuous enough to tell Kalamazoo voters how they should cast their ballot. After all, I've never even been to Kalamazoo (though I've heard it's a really pretty city, especially in the autumn). And besides, I'm pretty sure they can make up their own minds.
But for what it's worth, I can say that I had never been prouder to live in Gainesville when voters — both locals and students — rejected Charter Amendment 1 by 16 percentage points. And contrary to what the at times cartoonishly absurd campaign waged against LGBT protections wanted us to believe, our city is better for it, and we're better people for it.
It's disheartening to see the same scare tactics that were used here being used in Kalamazoo, but with any luck, the outcome will be the same.
Fingers crossed, Kalamazoo.
Copyright © 2011, Joe Dellosa.