Amy Hunter

Documenting unreportable discrimination

Filed By Amy Hunter | October 25, 2009 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Amy Hunter, hate crimes against LGBT people, Kalamazoo, nondiscrimination, politics

In recent weeks, the opposition has been stepping up efforts in the effort to repeal the LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance in Kalamazoo to spread falsehoods about gay and transgender people, our motives, what type of lives we lead and if ballot proposal #1856 passes, how large the chunk of the sky that falls will be. Misinformation is, of course, the best, time honored and tested favorite of "anti-gay" organization tactics.

The following is my personal favorite:

Kalamazoo does not need a non-discrimination ordinance protecting Gay and Transgender people from discrimination related to housing, employment and public accommodations.

The party line goes something like this: "Those supporting the Radical Gay Agenda claim that Homosexuals are being denied fair housing and employment in Kalamazoo. It's a lie; there has never been a documented case of discrimination in Kalamazoo based on someone living a homosexual life style." It's so obvious, why do we need a law if no one is being discriminated against?


The problem is that without a law there is no recognized mechanism for reporting and documentation of discrimination. How very convenient.... It's the same "Catch 22" that gay and transgender people have been in with respect to violent crimes committed against them for no other reason than they are gay or transgender. Fortunately, it appears this situation will be changing soon. Once President Obama signs the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, it will become a federal hate crime to commit an act of violence against a person because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In Kalamazoo, the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center (KGLRC) logs telephone calls and contacts that come to them about discrimination or violence, their logs however are not considered official. If you call the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, they might take your complaint but will not reference your sexual orientation or gender identity in the official report. The same is true for the City of Kalamazoo.

The sad, nearly incomprehensible truth is that without specific protections it is actually legal to discriminate against someone based merely on perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Being gay could cost you your job. Being transgender can get you evicted. You can be refused service - legally - at a restaurant if the manager even thinks you are gay or transgender and, furthermore, you have no recourse. Subtler forces are at work here that almost never receive attention and most certainly they have never received their due.

Fear and the leveraging of power.

Many of us are fully aware of the fact that, prior to sexual harassment statutes, women often would be forced to choose between feeding their children and paying the rent or enduring oftentimes repeated humiliations from co-workers, supervisors, or managers. No one pretends that it doesn't continue to happen however, with legislation in place there is now recourse for the complainant.

No such luck if you are LGBT. Women who complained about sexual harassment "just didn't know their place," were "ball busters," and later, as the feminist movement gained validity, "feminazis." Today there is, at the very least, fairly comprehensive documentation of sexual harassment and that means it can be quantified and targeted for specific remediation. The hitch comes when a person is not in a position with enough power to survive reporting the harassment.

Gay and transgender people do not even have a means by which they can "officially" report discrimination or violence. If we did have such a means, would we use it? Maybe....

Fear is the strongest motivator, or, in this case, the strongest UN-motivator. Gays remain closeted, trans-folk take their own lives rather than face the potential scorn and violence they open themselves up to by transitioning. I personally know many gay and trans-folk who are not out to any one except a select few.

The opposition to Kalamazoo's ordinance #1856 know that they have the most powerful messaging tool on the planet--fear. Tell everyone how much of a threat we are and ordinarily well-considered individuals suddenly conjure images of predators waiting to rape or convert their sons and daughters. Businesses will fail because of the transgender receptionist. Churches will need to get their sermons approved before they can be preached. The misinformation list is too long to begin to fathom.

Let us assume for a moment that Kalamazoo's non-discrimination ordinance is upheld on November 3. The real victory will not be that there is now a law in place. The value of its passage will be the peeling back of one layer of fear. Along with that comes the ability to report and document-officially, instances of discrimination. The brightest point comes from the affirmative effect Kalamazoo can deservedly assume.

The message to the LGBT community is: We value you.

"Your Gal in Kalamazoo"--Amy Hunter

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The circular arguments that support hate go round and round.

That same argument was used in Nashville recently before their nondiscrimination ordinance passed. I hope it passes in Kalamazoo, too. :)

Non-descrimination is especially important for transgender people. When I was living in Cleveland (where I grew up in) I almost became homeless because I constantly was denied employment and housing for being trans.

When I finally found an understanding roommate, I was described as "the best roommate ever". When I finally got a job (at a company with a non-descrimination policy), there were no problems and one of the managers was very sad to see me go because my register was always perfect to the penny.

Gee, there's so much to be afraid of there! Trans people are such a menace! I certainly hope I changed a few hearts and minds while I was living there at least.

Jamie- I couldn't have said it better myself. Your last sentence sums it all up. "...I Changed a few hearts and minds." If you know me, it's tough to be afraid of me. I know that it can be hard and of course, we all need to be aware of the dangers it can bring but, please, please, be out if you can. Every time someone gets the chance to meet a transperson is a chance to change someone's mind.---a

Jamie- I couldn't have said it better myself. Your last sentence sums it all up. "...I Changed a few hearts and minds." If you know me, it's tough to be afraid of me. I know that it can be hard and of course, we all need to be aware of the dangers it can bring but, please, please, be out if you can. Every time someone gets the chance to meet a transperson is a chance to change someone's mind.---a

Well, it would be much harder for these nuts to win at the ballot box if they spoke clearly. "God Hates Fags" is not a winning message; it's just the nicer way to play Fred Phelps at the ballot box.

Angela Brightfeather | October 26, 2009 11:12 AM

Talking facts, not sentiments here..I have been saying for many years that the main benefit of a Hate Crimes Bill is not just that it might stop a few people from committing hate crimes, but that it will finally provide the undisputed truth that they occur on a regular basis and that there are serious consequesnces.

To the nay-sayers in our own community who happen to be more conservative, you always hear that they don't feel the legislation is needed, because a discrimination crime is still a crime. But what they forget to point out is, that the real deterrent to discrimination is not as much the law as it is the process of that law that is set in motion and requires a judgment to be made. Previously, there was little or no judgement. Aftter the law is passed, if a person or company is charged with committing a hate crime, or if ENDA passes, an employment discrimination, then the gears get put in motion and they are unstoppable.

First of all the victim can document the event when reported to an office of the EEOC or HUD or any government oversight agency. Secondly, after being set in motion by the filing of a complaint, now it is up to the perpetrator to defend themselves. This comes at a cost of at least $5,000.00 for a lawyer to defend them and time taken out of production at work or away from work to attend one or more seres of "hearings" conducted by the government agency where the complaint was filed by the alleged victim.

Any smart employer or private person renting their property on the open market, who is confronted with having to hire a lawyer and defend themselves in a hearing, in front of a government negotiator who is not costing the victim anything, sooner or later gets the point. It is far better to treat people fairly and do them no harm, rather than have to face "the process" of defending their own discriminatory nature, no matter how much it may be engrained or enshrined in their character and upbringing, or rather lack of it.

Some people say that most companies have lawyers on retainer and it doesn't cost them anything. The fact is that many companies have "friends" who are lawyers and that they work with, but they aren't payng any of them retainers unless they are getting sued or have to defend themselves on a regular basis.

It would be wise to point this out to other people. That those who discriminate and fight laws that are designed to hold them responsible for their point of view because they hurt other people, are thinking only of their own selfish ends in being held accountable. Paying that $5,000.00 every time they have to defend their discrimination, is the minimum, even if they win the case, and does not take into account what it would cost them if they lost the case and had to pay fines, back wages or recoverable costs endured due to their discrimination.

The message is clear. Sometimes, if not most of the time, it isn't the "feel good" thing about passing a non-discrimination law that is the main thing. It may make people feel more empowered to report the incident, and that is a good thing. But it is the actual empowerment of creating a system that acts on the complaint that is really the victory here and pushes progress in the right direction, to a point where it becomes self defeating to practice discrimination in the first place.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful commentary. I couldn't agree with you more. If you note the last paragraph of my original post--it's not so much that there is a law in place. it's that a mechanism will have been put in place that will have consequences. Consequences eventually force other changes and they mandate public discourse which has real substance. I get "confused puppy" looks from people when I tell them that the job I'm really looking forward to is educating the community about what it means to have a law in place. The dialogue there is bound to be much more in depth than during the campaign phase of egg throwing.---a