St. Joseph drafts ordinance to protect LGBTQ residents

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. – St. Joseph Michigan has taken a major step to protect LGBTQ residents and visitors to the city.

The first reading of the city’s proposed non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) took place at the St. Joseph Commission meeting on Monday night.

St. Joseph is the first city in Southwest Michigan to draft an NDO.

In the State of Michigan, the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act does not include protection for LGBTQ people, but St. Joseph’s proposal does.

Executive Director of the OutCenter, an LGBTQ community center that serves the Tri-County area, Mary Jo Schnell  has been involved in the development of the ordinance for several months and says she’s “overwhelmed and overjoyed” about the progress.

A presentation in October from the OutCenter sparked conversation of the NDO.

City Attorney Laurie Schmidt worked with other community leaders to author the legislation, while researching over 40 communities in the state that already have non-discrimination ordinances, as well as the NDO template from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

“That’s a significant message to LGBT people. When you think of people wanting to live in a town, relocate to a town, work in a town that will protect them, when the state is not positioned to yet,” Schnell said.

The intent of ordinance reads, “no person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor shall any person be denied the enjoyment of his or her civil rights or be discriminated against because of race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, height, weight, marital status, or disability.”

Read full ordinance here.

Schnell presented two revisions of the ordinance before the second reading on March 11th.

One suggestion was to revise the ordinance’s definition of sexual orientation. She also offered up a modification in the information and investigation section.

City Commissioner Laura Goos played a role in the development of the ordinance.

“The biggest impact it’s going to make is to cement with our residents and visitors that we are a welcoming place, and that we value inclusion and diversity,” Goos said. “That’s the major intent, we don’t necessarily have problems that we’re aware of, but it’s more of a statement that we believe as a community in making sure that everybody is in the tent.”

Schnell hopes other towns seeing this will take this mission on as well.

The ordinance will take effect 10 days after its final passage.

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