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Dearborn Heights tackles gay rights

November 18, 2005

“Dearborn Heights has found itself at the center of a battle over gay rights. The city recently adopted an ordinance that creates a commission to investigate incidences of discrimination, including that based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The ordinance may soon be challenged by residents, with the assistance of the American Family Association of Michigan, which has successfully knocked down human rights ordinances protecting gays in cities around the state, including in Royal Oak and Ferndale. …’We do not believe that city, state or federal law should establish special protection for the homosexual lifestyle,’ said Gary Glenn, president of the state’s AFA, who has said that homosexuality can make individuals susceptible to domestic violence, mental illness and cancer.”

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DETROIT NEWS
Detroit, Michigan
November 18, 2005

Dearborn Heights tackles gay rights
Play about a homosexual man’s death and the city’s
recently adopted civil rights ordinance are under fire.

by Catherine Jun
DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. — When the actors at the Dearborn Heights Civic Theater step on stage Saturday night, they hope their dramatic message of tolerance will counter the expected protests outside the building.

At the theater’s closing performance of “The Laramie Project,” the dramatized story of the killing of gay 21-year-old Matthew Shepard in 1998, picketers from the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., have vowed to march on the sidewalk of the Berwyn Center, with signs reading “God Hates Gays” and “Matt — Seven Years in Hell.”

On more than one front, Dearborn Heights has found itself at the center of a battle over gay rights.

The city recently adopted an ordinance that creates a commission to investigate incidences of discrimination, including that based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The ordinance may soon be challenged by residents, with the assistance of the American Family Association of Michigan, which has successfully knocked down human rights ordinances protecting gays in cities around the state, including in Royal Oak and Ferndale.

While there is no local organizing yet, the AFA says it has 300 supporters living in Dearborn Heights, and AFA believes it will be able to help garner enough support to overturn the ordinance in a ballot vote.

“We do not believe that city, state or federal law should establish special protection for the homosexual lifestyle,” said Gary Glenn, president of the state’s AFA, who has said that homosexuality can make individuals susceptible to domestic violence, mental illness and cancer.

Mayor Dan Paletko said that he was “disheartened” about the e-mails from residents about ordinance’s purpose.

The ordinance was adopted last month in response to hate crimes that occurred in the city in the past year, the mayor said.

“It’s to foster understanding, to recognize diversity and respect it,” Paletko said. He added that the Community and Cultural Relations Commission, the members of which are currently being selected, has no enforcement powers.

The ordinance became controversial when Councilwoman Margaret Van Houten introduced it without reference to sexual orientation. The mayor and others supported including it.

Gay rights advocates are already mounting efforts to protect the ordinance. The Triangle Foundation is holding a town hall meeting from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Monday at the Canfield Community Center, 1801 N. Beech Daly, to gain support in the community.

“In a community that has had a cross-burning and a mosque vandalism, now they want to stir up anti-gay violence?” said Sean Kosofsky, director of policy for the foundation, the state’s largest civil rights, advocacy and anti-violence organization for gays.

Shirley Phelps-Roper of the Westboro Baptist Church said about 15 picketers will assemble outside of the theater to oppose the “tacky melodrama, this gushy thing that’s supposed to convince people that it’s okay to be gay.”

The play, written by Moises Kaufman, is derived from interviews with more than 200 people of Laramie, Wyo., in the year following the murder of Shepard, who was attacked by two teenagers and left to die on a fence.

The group also will picket the same production at the Mendelssohn Theatre in Ann Arbor.

Lamar Fields, director of the Laramie Project, said members of the Ferndale chapter of Soulfource, a nonviolent gay rights advocacy organization, will be outside the theater Saturday night to escort patrons inside.

He hopes there will be no confrontation between the anti-gay picketers and supporters.

He said he also hopes the production educates people about the potential consequences of hate.

“If there’s intolerance, I feel I have an obligation to change that, not just for gays and lesbians, but for everybody,” Fields said.

http://www.detnews.com/2005/wayne/0511/18/B02-385723.htm

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