Editor’s Note: Saginaw, Michigan could represent any American town in one of the 29 states where it’s still legal to fire someone just because they’re LGBT. Saginaw Councilwoman Annie Boensch introduced an ordinance that would protect LGBT employees locally. Boensch’s ordinance sparked opposition and heated debate. It didn’t pass. Yet Boensch still has hope. She explains why.
By Annie Boensch
Saginaw, Michigan is a welcoming place. Our citizens are kind and friendly people. We have a vibrant and active lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community here. One need not look hard to find examples of their contributions to the betterment of our city.
Yet, state and federal law has failed to keep up with people’s evolving attitudes on LGBT equality. Michigan has a Civil Rights Act, but it doesn’t include LGBT people. That’s why Michigan is one of the 29 states were you can legally be fired just for being LGBT. It only seemed natural to me that we would step in and fix this on a local level.
There is no guarantee that the state or federal government will eventually do the right thing. When it comes to protecting an individual’s right to fair treatment in employment and receiving basic essential services we can’t afford to wait for others to act. A city council has a limited scope of authority, but this is one area where we can lead. This is one simple and obvious thing that we can accomplish to improve the quality of life for a group of our citizens.
When I was elected to Saginaw’s City Council in 2011, a gay friend pointed out something surprising: Saginaw’s nondiscrimination policy for housing already included protections for LGBT people! But the city lacked an ordinance extending those protections to employment and public accommodations.
This bothered me a great deal because many of the people I love most in this world happen to be gay.
I asked my gay friends to share their stories with me and I learned a great deal. Most said they personally experienced some form of discrimination or knew someone who had. They all felt an ordinance protecting LGBT people in employment and public accommodations was needed.
It takes a tremendous amount of bravery to come forward and talk about this issue. The same people who shared their stories with me were willing to speak publicly at city council meetings. Their courage is what compelled me to act, because everyone who came forward to share their story took on a certain amount of risk. The meetings and public comments are now on the Internet forever, for every potential future employer to see. That means every LGBT person who spoke out remains vulnerable because we weren’t able to pass the ordinance.
I knew that this had the potential to be a difficult and controversial ordinance to propose, but I do not regret trying. It started a conversation that was not happening before. I know from personal experience that people need to be allowed room to evolve on the issue. While it may take time to move forward, the first step is hearing the personal stories that have emerged through this process.
Eventually the law will catch up to changing attitudes of our citizens and finally reflect the will of the people. It’s not just the right thing to do, but it’s also smart business and economic development policy. That’s been proven by the big employers throughout the state that have adopted inclusive nondiscrimination policies on their own.
Thanks to the help of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, Fortune 500 companies in recent years are now ahead of the law when it comes to LGBT equality.
Corporations headquartered in Michigan, including the Dow Chemical Company and Whirlpool, are now calling for a change in state law to include LGBT equality. Our legislators who claim they want to attract business to the state must listen. Young and educated people want to live in a diverse and accepting place. Saginaw, in particular, needs to stabilize its population and do everything it can to be attractive to prospective employers. An inclusive nondiscrimination policy would do just that.