Residents Plead With Rochester Hills Leaders: Protect Human Rights
A group called Rochester Hills Together wants an ordinance that protects the LGBT community from discrimination; councilmembers advise them to take their fight to the state level.
About a dozen people — parents and kids alike — pleaded this week with Rochester Hills leaders to create a "welcome mat" for the city by becoming the 20th Michigan city to enact a human rights ordinance.
"We're not asking you to legalize same-sex marriages," said Nick Rinehart, a member of the group Rochester Hills Together. Rinehart is a recent Rochester High School graduate who expressed his worry that he could someday be fired for being gay.
"We're not promoting some radical agenda. What we're asking you to do tonight is to simply enact a measure that would make it so people of Rochester Hills cannot be discriminated against for merely loving somebody."
After hearing the requests from Rinehart and others to consider an anti-discriminatory ordinance, the majority of Rochester Hills City Council members agreed it's a request that's best made at the state or federal level.
How they got here
In February, city council approved a resolution intended to strengthen the city's commitment to civil rights. But in doing so, councilmembers opted not to adopt a resolution that would specifically oppose pending legislation that could adversely affect those civil rights.
Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, introduced HB 5039 last year. If approved it would prohibit municipalities from extending additional rights to those not covered by the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976.
The Elliott-Larsen Act protects people on the basis of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, weight, height, familial or marital status. But it does not offer protection on the basis of sexual orientation.
Some municipalities have approved their own ordinances related to Elliott-Larsen that extend the act's protections to the lesbian and gay community. That's what members of Rochester Hills Together were asking leaders to consider on Monday night.
This is the second meeting that Rochester Hills Together members have attended in full force. The ordinance they drafted would go above Elliott Larsen and provide anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community in housing, public accommodations and employment.
They were asking councilmembers to put the ordinance on a future agenda.
"It is simply a welcome mat to our city," said Lisa Schein. "Being a mom of four in Rochester Hills, I want to raise my kids in a community where we can say it's okay to be who you want to be."
Linda Davis-Kirksey asked councilmembers to formalize the Rochester Hills Together group as a city committee and invited other councilmembers to take part in the process.
Joanna Hill, an automotive engineer who lives in Hazel Park, told city councilmembers that she was born John Hill and has struggled with being transgendered.
"To be transgendered in this world you can lose your job, you can be denied housing, you can be discriminated against simply because of your DNA," Hill said.
Rinehart told councilmembers how he plans to attend the University of Michigan this fall.
"No matter how successful I might be in my career, I can still be fired for being gay," he said. "No matter how financially independent I am, I can be denied housing for being gay."
Brian Kirksey asked councilmembers to state, on the record, their feelings about the ordinance.
"This deserves to be on the agenda," he said.
City council reacts
Council President Greg Hooper said there was not enough support on his council for the resolution to be put on the agenda.
"I do not support an ordinance," Hooper said. "This is a federal and state issue. It has always been enforced and regulated by them. We do not possess the expertise here in Rochester Hills to do that — to investigate and prosecute violations of an ordinance of this type."
Hooper said he welcomed the efforts and passion of those who came to speak and urged them to take their focus to the state level.
Councilmembers Michael Webber, Nathan Klomp and Adam Kochenderfer agreed with Hooper that the focus of those in the audience should be at the state level.
Councilmember James Rosen said, "I have nothing useful to add tonight."
Councilmember Mark Tisdel said city council had no authority to create new civil rights. Quoting from John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison, Tisdel said he "simply cannot and will not vote for a newly-created claim right at the expense of our endowed and unalienable property rights."
Webber suggested Rochester Hills Together gather signatures and put the question up for a ballot vote — similar to what those in support of a parks amendment did last year.
Only councilmember Yalamanchi, who has supported Rochester Hills Together from the beginning, spoke out in support of the ordinance.
"To me nothing supercedes a human right," Yalamanchi said. "The reality is, every day discrimination happens in one form or another.
"The struggles these individuals or families go through is just unimaginable. If we could come together here in our community and demonstrate that we do not tolerate any type of discrimination, it would be a good thing for the community."
Mayor Bryan Barnett also offered his thoughts on a civil rights ordinance, agreeing with Hooper that the battle is best fought at the state level.
"I don't run all of the businesses in Rochester Hills; I'm responsible for one — the one you're sitting in," Barnett said. "We don't ask or care if you are gay or straight when you apply for a building permit; we don't ask or care if you are gay or straight when you enter one of our parks; we don't ask or care if you are gay or straight when you apply for a job here."