Hundreds gathered in the city of Jackson on Feb. 7 to support the passage of a non-discrimination ordinance to protect LGBTQ residents. BTL Photo Todd Heywood

NDO Supporters in Jackson Say 'Love Rules'

City council to decide if non-discrimination ordinance will go on August ballot

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

Updated March 6

JACKSON - Since the city of Jackson passed a non-discrimination ordinance on Feb. 7, nearly 700 signatures were submitted to the city clerk to oppose it.

Therefore, the NDO will not go into effect on March 9 as originally planned. The city of Jackson has verified 368 signatures, and stopped counting after about 400 of the 682 names on the petitions, according to an MLive.com report.Only 342 valid signatures were needed to block the ordinance.

Citizens in opposition collected enough signatures in an effort to force the matter onto a ballot. The city council now has to decide on March 28 whether to discard the ordinance or ask citizens to vote on it in August.

"It sounds like if there is a referendum it would be potentially on the August ballot. Typically in Jackson,the August voter turnout has been historically low, like 3,500. I have a hunch this would drive it up to maybe 5,000. It could even go a little higher, maybe 6,500 just because of the year and I think a lot of folks are paying attention, plus there will be a competitive mayoral race. So all of those things together say people will be a little bit more tuned in," said State Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo).

"My hunch is that this will be the kind of thing where they're going to need to raise between $40,000-60,000. You know something between $8-12 a person to really fund a well-executed campaign. Think about this small universe of folks that will be the deciders for so many - we've seen historically that the opposition has very misleading information on these issues - so one lie can often be stickier than ten truths" he said, adding, "I also think it's a doable amount. I think we're going to see higher volunteer engagement this year, and because Jackson is relatively urbanized, it means when you sign up to do a door-knocking shift you can cover quite a few doors pretty quickly."

The passing of this ordinance was considered a calculated risk, but organizations such as Jackson Together, Equality Michigan, and the ACLU of Michigan have been encouraging residents in the city of Jackson to be courageous and share their stories, which explains the 676 people who were in attendance Feb. 7 at a city council meeting to speak out during five hours of citizen comment.

A statement released by the group Jackson Together said, "Discrimination has no place in Jackson. The ordinance passed by the city council - after input from hundreds of residents and local businesses - protects those who live and work here from being fired or discriminated against because of who they are or who they love."

Conner Wood, a representative from the group, told BTL on March 3 that they are calling on the city clerk to conduct a thorough review of the petitions to overturn the NDO because of reports that "those carrying out the petition drive resorted to misinformation and

fabrication to persuade residents to sign."

However, Wood said, "if this attempt to allow discrimination is placed on the ballot, Jackson residents, businesses, and faith leaders will work tirelessly to ensure that the ordinance is sustained and that our city sends a clear message of no discrimination in Jackson."

A rally was held on March 5 to "thank Jackson for the passage of the NDO and recruit volunteers and supporters to defend the NDO at the ballot box if it comes to that," said Wood.

"Over 125 people came out on Sunday afternoon to stand in support of equal rights for all Jackson residents, and we ended the event with a walk around downtown Jackson to thank this great, welcoming city for its support of the NDO."

Members of the community began their march at the new Jackson Pride Center at St. Johns United Church of Christ on Mechanic Street, chanting "Love rules in Jackson" along the way.

During the Michigan Progressive Summit in Lansing on March 4, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) weighed in on the divisive and dangerous fight for the LGBTQ community in Jackson.

"I think that's very, very concerning. People really need to speak out and tell their story and make it personal," said Stabenow. "When these things happen, it's very easy to make blanket statements about people and pit people against each other. It's harder to do when people can connect and tell their own story."

In addition to sharing stories, if this goes on the ballot officially, Hoadley said, "I would highly recommend writing that $5, $10 or $50 check or more if you can, and do it early and then sign up to volunteer one day. If that's all you can do, that's fine. We have learned this lesson very recently that no one should take the outcome of a vote for granted. If everybody who cared about these issues gave $5 on the day they launched, they would be well past their goal. But it means we have to do something no matter what it is and as long as it's meaningful for us. I guarantee there's more than 700 people in Jackson who support fairness and equality so let's just go mobilize and let's win this thing."

BTL Reporter Todd Heywood contributed to this story.


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