Kalamazoo voters will soon have a chance to put an end to a yearlong debate over discrimination this Tuesday.
Voters will decide if the city of Kalamazoo should retain Ordinance 1856, also known as the Anti-Discrimination Ordinance, since it was suspended over the summer.
The ordinance prohibits discrimination against a person’s gender, sexual orientation, age, height, weight, or religious affiliation in the areas of housing, public accommodations, and employment.
The ordinance, passed twice by the Kalamazoo City Commission, was petitioned in July 2009 to be brought to a referendum vote.
Violation of the ordinance means a $500 fine – each day that discrimination occurs is considered a separate violation and would generate a separate fine.
“We want people to vote yes on Nov. 3,” E.J. Dean, One Kalamazoo Western Michigan University campus coordinator, said. “Kalamazoo wants to support us but doesn’t know yes is the right way to go.”
Students would benefit directly from the ordinance, Dean said.
“There are students who work and live in Kalamazoo,” Dean said. “If we want people to stay in Kalamazoo, we need to make housing and jobs available to them. If we won’t, they might move away. Other cities have non-discrimination ordinances.”
Ann Arbor, Detroit, East Lansing, and Grand Rapids have similar ordinances.
Charles Ybema, spokesman for Kalamazoo Citizens Voting No to Special Rights Discrimination, said the ordinance would not protect organizations like the Salvation Army and Boy Scouts, among others.
“This is discrimination against individuals who have a different opinion on the matter,” Ybema said. “Non-profits serve an important function to Kalamazoo, but these people will be hurt by an ordinance like this.”
Exceptions to the ordinance include religious organizations, property owners where every tenant is of the same gender, and athletic teams selecting players based on gender, age, height or weight.
Those exemptions should be good enough, Dean said.
“People need to educate themselves, they can’t count on other people’s information,” Dean said. “There are exemptions to the ordinance.”
Opponents maintain that the ordinance would discriminate against citizens in private places such as restrooms.
“We’ve maintained that this is special-rights discrimination,” Ybema said. “In a very simple example, if a female goes into a public restroom, she has a reasonable expectation of privacy. If a man dressed as a woman goes in, they have the same expectation of privacy. But those expectations don’t go together, they’re mutually exclusive.”
Kalamazoo Citizens Voting No to Special Rights Discrimination held a press conference and unveiled their new TV commercial focusing on the bathroom issue on Friday.
Mary Ann Stark, Ph.D. and Registered Nurse, associate professor of the Bronson School of Nursing, and the Rev. Joseph Anderson of City of Refuge Church of God in Christ, recounted times when they were in private places with transgender people.
Stark, who stars in the commercial, discussed being in a fitness club locker room with a transgender man.
“It was really unpleasant, an anxiety-producing experience,” Stark said. “There are people from many different cultures here at Western, and I’m sure it would be a really shocking experience, especially for women who have been abused by strange males in the past.”
The ordinance would also open the door to abusers, Stark said.
“There are men out there who think about going into women’s bathrooms and saying, ‘That sounds fun’,” Stark said. “That sort of thing is illegal. I can’t interpret the intentions of everyone else in a bathroom.”
Those fears are unfounded, Narda Beauchamp of the Kalamazoo Alliance for Equality said.
“We researched, in-depth, 17 cities in Michigan with ordinances like this,” Beauchamp said. “There hasn’t been one case of reported misuse by transgender people. Not one issue in Ann Arbor, in Detroit, in Ypsilanti. This is just one small thing they are trying to blow out of proportion.”
Beauchamp hopes voters will focus on what she sees as the biggest problem the ordinance addresses.
“As a mom and Kalamazoo teacher for 32 years, there is no way I would support anything that would take away the rights of anyone in Kalamazoo,” Beauchamp said. “This is about equality and fairness in Kalamazoo. When we’re talking about public accommodations, we’re talking about people asked to leave or not permitted from entering. That is wrong.”
According to ONE Kalamazoo’s press materials, the Kalamazoo Gazette, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the Kalamazoo Public Library, NAACP, the Kalamazoo Promise, Vine Neighborhood Association and YWCA, among others, have endorsed the ordinance.
The ordinance would amend Chapter 18 of the city code, rename Article II “Discrimination Prohibited,” amend sections 18-17 to 18-25 and add sections 18-26 to 18-30.
To view the full ordinance, visit www.kalamazoocity.org/docs/1856.pdf