Friday, October 13, 2006

Vote NO on Human Rights Ordinance

Note: The following article was published in the October Edition of Ferndale Friends, available for free at various Ferndale businesses and delivered to every Ferndale household. It appeared along with a opinion in favor of the ordinance written by Ferndale City Councilman Craig Covey. Should his article appear online I'll try linking to it, or I'll ask Friends' publisher, Stephanie Loveless, permission to reproduce it here in its entirety.
Good ideas require few words to describe them. The ten best ideas ever to become law are the US Constitution's Bill of Rights. With only 482 words, our country's founders established protections against unreasonable search and self-incrimination, guaranteed the freedom of speech, a right to bear arms, presumption of innocence -- and reserved all other rights to citizens and states any not specifically granted the federal government.

Ferndale's proposed Human Rights Ordinance pretends to be such an idea -- and goes on for 1600 words trying to make palatable a law Ferndale voters have already twice spit out in 1991 and 2000. But Ferndale's Covey Council doesn't take no for an answer. While our district's schools barely perform better than Pontiac's, the city is receiving fewer dollars in state revenue sharing, suffering stagnant home values, foreclosures and a declining population, the Covey Council wants to pass a symbolic and provocative ordinance as though such a thing has any impact on important quality-of-life issues facing Ferndale's citizens.

After establishing that gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons (men wanting to be treated as women and women as men) deserve the same enumerated protections for themselves as for blacks, women, seniors, and the handicapped, the proposed ordinance follows a tortuous path through definitions, re-definitions, exceptions, limitations, and finally to penalties.

Councilman Covey and former city manager Tom Barwin like pointing out that Ann Arbor has a similar ordinance -- as though that were the secret ingredient to Ann Arbor's success and their proximity to the University of Michigan has little to do with it. Both should be reminded Detroit has a similar ordinance. Whom did that ordinance attract if Detroit's population falls every time it's counted? Did the ordinance lift Detroit's housing values or scholastic achievement? Attract industry? What other of Detroit's inspired ordinances, that account for their council's national prestige, should we emulate in Ferndale?

If Ferndale wants to attract families, then family-friendly ordinances and enforcement of existing ordinances should be our city's priority. Families don't come to Ferndale in ones and twos. They come with three, four, and five residents per household or more. They come for the schools, the parks and playgrounds, and for a walk-able downtown. Families come for first-class city services and neighborhoods free of blight, vacant lots, abandoned cars, or driveways with two-year-old piles of shingles.

But that's not what this ordinance is about. It's about the Covey Council dressing up Ferndale to be a notch on the garter belt of special interests.

However you measure it, the ordinance is intended to be symbolic. It's for appearance's sake and not our citizens'. Laws drafted for symbolic reasons are laws that shouldn't be proposed at all.

With 482 hastily assembled words, I urge you to vote NO on legislation for looks. Vote NO on legislation for appearances. Vote NO on Ferndale's so-called Human Rights Ordinance.


  1. Reading all your letters and comments on this HRO I feel fear. I do not know where this fear comes from, but it is there. The fear to lose, the fear to share the privilege to exist that was long time only meant to be for straight male men.
    I grew up knowing that everyone should have the same opportunities to live. People should be able to co-exist. Currently, it is very hard to find someone to say the opposite. And yet, whenever there is an opportunity to act out and actually walk the talk, people like you find reasons not to do so. I have heard all those arguments: already there, not necessary, why, poorly worded... If it makes a well-spoken and well-educated man like you fight so hard against this HRO, this is proof enough that the equality is not even close to being there.
    Considering that in old Greece the word "Democracy" was just a description of people voting defining people as white straight men, it is actually really sad that today we have not really changed this definition. Standards, rules and legislation set and dominated by white straight men do actually only one thing, promote an environment where they can prosper and reign. I can only hope that one day there will be rules and standards set that will work for everyone... Until then we have to make sure that we create a legal system that will make sure that discrimination is not only a word in a political speech. And yes.... I am for dicrimination: I would at anytime discriminate a person or institution that discriminates others. Who are we to be so tolerant that we can tolerate intolerance?

    Attracting a very diverse resident base is very good for the economy. In many states and cities there is a gay index that actually describes the wealth and liveability of a city. The more gay people live in an area the better for the economy....A growing city needs people that like to live there, and are willing to spend money, and of ocurse they are paying taxes as well as any other resident.

  2. ".. whenever there is an opportunity to act out and actually walk the talk, people like you find reasons not to do so."

    I'm unsure what broad brush you're using to describe people like me, but Ferndale has already walked-the-walk without the ordinance. How does having an ordinance change that?

    Imagine there hadn't been discrimination of any kind: would non-discrimination statutes be necessary? The answer is no, because there wouldn't have been a reason for them. Today in Ferndale people are not discriminated against because of the sexual orientation or expression, so the ordinance is similarly unnecessary except merely symbolic reasons. I don't find symbolism a compelling reason to pass law.

    "If it makes you fight so hard against this HRO, this is proof enough that the equality is not even close to being there."

    No. It means they've already achieved equality and an ordinance tailored to their special interests makes them, well special and no-longer equal.

    How do we establish someone's gay? How are we to be certain someone is truly transgendered and not simply exploiting the ordinance to satisfy their perversions? How are businesses supposed to decide which employees to layoff or fire without exposing themselves to greater varieties of allegations of discrimination and the subsequent risk of civil suits? Nothing in the ordinance is for the benefit of the entire community--it is only for the benefit of a minority. Such laws provide much self-congratulation, and ignore the economic and legal consequences of their "feel-good" agendas.

    "I can only hope that one day there will be rules and standards set that will work for everyone.."

    There were standards set--but then we diluted them and awarded merit points based on skin color, nationality, gender, et al. What you're describing as the goal is a meritocracy, but what you're supporing legislatively is its destruction, and replacement with a system valuing persons' intrinsic characteristics as being as merit-worthy as character, ambition, or scholarship. The latter three are more important to economic and social progress than the intrinisc qualities of color, gender, orientation or expression. These indeed are superficial measurements.

    "Who are we to be so tolerant that we can tolerate intolerance?

    Ahh--but by whose standards is tolerance defined? You believe tolerance is in your favor because you hold with others you believe are tolerant, but what if the roles were reversed? What if the definition of tolerance changed and you suddenly found yourself on the short-end of the definition? Would you want others to tolerate your intolerant speech or should you be squelched? What is the value of freedom of speech if you don't protect that which you may find offensive? Being duplicious with what you're willing to tolerate is to deny the meaning of the word, tolerance.

    "Attracting a very diverse resident base is very good for the economy."

    That is indeed today's popular wisdom. But it is unsupported economically. Richard Floriday's book on the subject failed to establish cause and effect, settling instead with a chicken-and-egg quandry. Which do you think is of greater economic value to a community: artists or industrialists? Can you name a single gay-based economy driving revenue to government, attracting investment and providing jobs to a community on par with the creation of a single factory?

  3. So, no one will establish a factory in Ferndale because there is - as you put it - a 'symbolic' gay rights ordinance? Seems to me that if a business owner determined that Ferndale was the proper site for their business such a symbolic ordinance would not deter them - after all, business is business. And there are plenty of businesses doing very well in Ferndale, including the salsa 'factory' on Woodward Heights. As for the continual emphasis on family, I moved to Ferndale 6 years ago - a single, straight woman - fixed up a house that needed fixing and am a good neighbor. I'm tired of feeling excluded by some Ferndale residents because I don't have a husband or a large number of kids. The implication often is that you can be a good member of the Ferndale community unless you are straight, married and a parent.

  4. "So, no one will establish a factory in Ferndale because there is - as you put it - a 'symbolic' gay rights ordinance?"

    The relationship isn't between employers and symbolism--it's between employers and the increased burdens they face to maintain a profitable business in our fair city.

    What attracts business? Customers, lower costs, less regulation. Ferndale's population has been declining for years so customers will have to come from without the city and not within. The good news is Ferndale's locations is a bonus.

    I haven't researched Ferndale's costs (wages, real estate, and taxes) but adding more protected-persons to the list with special standing to sue employers is not an enticement. It doesn't matter whether an employer won't discriminate, it matters only that discrimination may be alleged.

    "As for the continual emphasis on family..."

    Continual emphasis? This is the only article I brought the subject up in unless I was defending the point, as was the case in my response to Luke from Ferndale. I'm unfamiliar with any economic theory promoting the benefits of large populations of single adults over families. I don't think the reason is because they're trying to be nice to families. It probably has more to do with their comparatively greater investment in the community, their length of residency, the increased spend, and the (pro)creation of new workers and consumers.

    "I'm tired of feeling excluded by some Ferndale residents because I don't have a husband or a large number of kids."

    Perhaps city council will introduce an ordinance introducing a be-kind-to-single-straight-women-without-kids week.

    I'm curious how your neighbors may be excluding you or if they are whether or not those exclusions are reasonable--seeing as how they can not be as spontaneous as singles, stay out as late or sleep in as late as a singles (ever), or drink as much as a singles might. Parenting requires sacrifices singles aren't required to make. Additionally, how interested are you in talking about kids, soccer games, school events, church picinics, birthday parties, or where to find baby sitters? Maybe you're expecting too much of your neighbors?

    Don't feel slighted. As a matter of government policy being single and childless is a transitional phase. The only communities actively recruiting that demographic are the retirement kind (and Carnival Cruise Lines).