As we have seen, all real progress in terms of gay and lesbian civil rights in Michigan happens on the local level. Ann Arbor and East Lansing were, along with San Francisco, the first cities in the country to pass gay rights ordinances back in 1972. Detroit added protection for gays and lesbians in the 1974 City Charter. That was a pretty good start.
A gay rights march in the 70s. Admire the solidarity, not the hair.
But then there were the Reagan 80's and AIDS and the rise of the culture wars and things kind of stagnated, and really in Michigan regressed. In the last ten years we've seen fights over gay rights-related ballot initiatives in Traverse City, Kalamazoo, Huntington Woods, Ypsilanti, Royal Oak, Ferndale, and Lansing (among others). Ypsilanti had an impressive victory on their inititative, a result of a ton of hard work. Ferndale took, what, three tries? And Royal Oak was never able to get one passed. The completely not-impressive list of cities in Michigan with ordinances protecting gays and lesbians can be found here.
Of course then the anti-gay marriage amendment came up for a vote and we were served up a heapin' helpin' of homophobia by the good voters of Michigan, and then Attorney General Mike Cox twisted the knife culminating in the Michigan Supreme Court decision completely prohibiting (and removing) any partnership benefits for gay employees of public institutions. So now U of M gets to try and recruit to academic talent to a backwater.
Now this is just a little overview. But basically, most of Michigan's population views us as less than wholly human. The truth is ugly.
So we are back to fighting at the local level, which brings me to the point of this post. Hamtramck, our own little hip melting pot city-in-a-city, has a Human Rights Ordinance on the ballot this November.
Freep.com offers the following summary: "The Hamtramck City Council passed the ordinance in June, but opponents gathered enough signatures to place it on the Nov. 4 ballot in hopes of appealing it. The ordinance prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and city contracting for several groups, but its inclusion of gays and transgendered people has stirred up controversy."
So now the ordinance is on the ballot and you've got vocal opponents like the priests at Hamtramck's three Catholic churches taking the "no special rights" stance against this "dangerous threat" to the community. (Um, hi priests ... ?)
But you've also got groups like Hamtramck United Against Discrimination fighting for passage of the ordinance. And sure, while people still reserve the street parking spot in front of their houses with chairs (and woe to anyone who might disregard that placeholder) this is a city with a crazy amount of ethnic diversity AND an openly gay City Council member, so it seems like the population might be ready to say, ok, fair is fair.
Every little bit helps, and for the time being it seems all we are going to have are these grassroots victories. But baby steps will still get us where we are going, so do what you can to get the gay rights Baby Huey up and tottering around in Michigan. Today Hamtramck, tomorrow the whole friggin' state.