K-zoo wrestles with gay rights ordinance

By Kyle Melinn

It was hard enough for Narda Beauchamp to hear her lesbian daughter say she didnt feel legally protected enough in the familys hometown of Kalamazoo to continue to live in the city with her partner.

But shortly after she had almost the identical conversation with her second lesbian daughter, who after graduating from the University of Michigan moved out of state as opposed to Kalamazoo.

"I cant depend on this community to be a safe place to live," Beauchamp said her younger daughter told her.

Beauchamp is now president of the local chapter of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a leading supporter of a ballot proposal in Kalamazoo that would enact an equal rights ordinance similar to one in Lansing and 14 other Michigan cities.

The ordinance is designed to provide equal rights for Kalamazoos gay, lesbian and transgender citizens. Opponents mustered enough signatures to successfully challenge an ordinance adopted by the Kalamazoo City Commission. The ordinance is in limbo until Nov. 3.

"Its too late for my family, but its not too late for other young people who would hope fully take a second look at Kalamazoo as a really great place to live and raise a family," said Beauchamp, a mother of five and a teacher of 33 years with the citys school system.

The ballot proposal is dominating news in Kalamazoo and is being viewed across the state as one of the key litmus test questions on any ballot statewide in 2009. While national polling shows a growing acceptance of gay issues, the gay community has suffered its share of setbacks. In July 2008, the Hamtramck human rights ordinance was defeated.

Nationally, the Kalamazoo proposition is one of three known ballot proposals dealing with gay issues. Ballot proposals in Washington and Maine deal with the gay marriage question.

The Kalamazoo ballot proposal comes after a prolonged saga. Last December, the Kalamazoo City Commission unanimously approved an equal rights ordinance that opponents succeeded in beating back after collecting enough signatures.

The commission spent the next five months refining the ordinance, adding exemptions for churches. In June, the commission unani mously approved the updated ordinance, only to have opponents collect signatures to repeal it again.

This time, the city commission kicked the issue to the ballot to let voters decide its fate. Voters will be asked to either support the ordinance (yes vote) or oppose it (no vote).

The election marks the ninth time a gay rights-type issue has made the ballot in Michigan since 2001.

Those opposing the effort include the American Family Association of Michigan (AFAM), and its president, Gary Glenn, which is pointing out potential pitfalls with adopting such "special rights discrimination."

Glenn said that in Ann Arbor a city detective who was a 15-year veteran and president of the police officers union was fired after the chairman of the citys rights commission accused him of violating that citys sexual orientation ordinance for saying that a police chief candidate had a "gay-rights agenda."

Another accusation being made by Kalamazoo minister Timothy Ezell of Mt. Calvary Christian Bible Church is that the ordinance would open the womens restroom door for men dressed as women.

"Should our mothers and wives and chil dren be forced by law to share the womens restrooms or showers with men who have the emotional and mental delusions that theyre women?" Ezell asks in a video posted on the groups Web site, www.responsiblevoters.org.

Supporters, organized under the banner of One Kalamazoo, say the claims are nothing more than red herrings to throw off voters from protecting the citys gay and lesbian population from discrimination in employment and housing.

The "pro-family" side claims there havent been any official discrimination complaints from gay individuals, but the citys gay rights group claims its handled at least 20 in the last two years.

Jon Hoadley, a 2006 MSU graduate who is running the pro-ordinance campaign, is optimistic, but he said more volunteers are needed to knock on doors in the remaining weeks.

“Talking to voters face to face is the best way to answer questions about the ordinance,” Hoadley said. “This is fundamentally about fairness and equality. We’re confident the more voters know about the ordinance, the more excited they are about voting yes.”

To contribute to OneKalamazoo or to volunteer, see www.onekalamazoo.com or call 269-903-2277