Since its passage last July, the anti-discrimination ordinance in Mount Pleasant has made it illegal for any person to be discriminated against due to sexual orientation or gender identity.
Central Michigan University faculty, students and Mount Pleasant residents agree that the city’s future will be much brighter in terms of equality since the ordinance was passed.
“It definitely has the ability to impact my future, especially in employment,” Royal Oak freshman Kai Niezgoda said. “As someone who is both queer and transgender, the ordinance could have huge implications as to where I can work comfortably and safely.”
Niezgoda said those in the transgender community, while seeing some positive changes due to increased prevalence in the media, have not made the same strides in terms of equality that those in the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities.
For this reason, the fact that gender identity and sexual orientation are included in anti-discrimination policy in Mount Pleasant is a large accomplishment for those who feel ostracized within the community, Niezgoda said.
Director of LGBTQ Services Shannon Jolliff-Dettore said it is imperative the Mount Pleasant community be inclusive and protect its members from discrimination.
“This protection gives a feeling of safety and sense of ‘I am equal,’” she said. “Knowing you are protected in school, work (and) housing because of your sexual orientation or gender identity and an inclusive policy is a powerful thing.”
Some communities, however, are not as inclusive as Mount Pleasant.
Mount Pleasant Mayor Kathleen Ling said it can be difficult to pass ordinances that include gender identity and sexual orientation without backlash from other community members.
In other cities such as Traverse City or Royal Oak, their city commissioners were able to pass such an ordinance, but opposing members of the community used a referendum to suspend the ordinance and force a vote, she said.
“I am very proud of the way the Mount Pleasant community dealt with this issue,” Ling said. “After about eight months of open debate and deliberation, the commission passed an ordinance which went into effect without any attempt to circulate a referendum.”
Grand Rapids sophomore Anna Gravelin expressed her gratitude for the ordinance and the changes in inclusion it is sure to make.
“As a lesbian individual in a same-sex relationship, this ordinance will affect me personally because I won’t have to worry about being discriminated against when applying for housing and employment, as well as general services,” she said. “I haven’t run into any of these issues in my two years living in Mount Pleasant, but this ordinance will ensure that it doesn’t happen ever.”
Sexual orientation and gender identity, while protected by the Mount Pleasant ordinance, are not covered under state or national law. But this is a trend that is beginning to change, Jolliff-Dettore said.
“Folks are beginning to recognize the inequality and begin working toward a change,” she said. “However, this work has been going on for many, many years.”
CMU students echoed the thought that inclusion of groups such as queer and transgender is improving.
“For some, the situation is getting better,” Niezgoda said. “And, especially because of the inclusiveness of the gender identity clause, the ordinance was a huge a step in the right direction for Mount Pleasant.”