On March 7, 2022, the City of East Lansing will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of becoming the first place in the United States to enact a type of ban on discrimination on the basis of “homosexuality.”
With a vote of 4-1, on March 7, 1972, East Lansing’s City Council voted to amend the City’s personnel rules to state:
“The main objective of our recruitment and selection program is to employ the best applicant for each vacancy on the basis of his qualifications for the job and without regard to race, color, creed, national origin, sex or homosexuality.”
Passage of this motion meant that City staff engaged in hiring were not to take into consideration “sex or homosexuality” when hiring workers for the City of East Lansing.
But the actual resolution of which this amendment was apparently part cannot be found in the City’s records, according to Mikell Frey, spokesperson for the City of East Lansing.
“After a comprehensive search,” Frey informed ELi on June 22 of this year, “the Clerk’s office was unable to locate the resolution indicated in the [City Council] minutes from March 7, 1972, that was read aloud by the City Manager at that time.”
Here’s what we do know about the landmark 1972 vote, thanks to help from the current City Clerk, Jennifer Shuster.
City Council minutes show that on February 22, 1972 – two weeks before the landmark vote went through – “The City Manager reported on the request of Don Gaudard for the Gay Liberation Movement for certain amendments of the City personnel rules. The City Manager read the City Attorney’s opinion regarding the request and recommended no change in the personnel rules at this time.”
In an article commemorating the 40th anniversary of the matter, Lawrence Cosentino reported for the Lansing City Pulse that “the Gay Liberation Movement [was] a vibrant student group led by charismatic, openly gay lawyer Don Gaudard.”
The minutes don’t specify what the City Attorney had considered and recommended against. But we know that at that point in the meeting, several people came forward to speak in favor of the personnel change, including Gaudard.
According to the minutes of that same meeting, after Gaudard spoke, Council member George Griffiths then “moved that the Council order the City Manager to prepare amendments to the personnel rules of the City to specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and homosexuality and report back on such amendments at the next Council meeting.”
Council member George Colburn seconded the motion, and it was supported by Council member and Mayor Wilbur Brookover, with Council member Robert Wilcox against, passing 3-1. Council member Mary Sharp was absent.
According to recorded minutes, at the next meeting, March 7, “The Mayor announced that this was the time to consider the proposed amendments to the personnel rules as requested by the City Council” at the previous meeting.
The minutes then indicate that “The City Manager read the proposed resolution to amend the personnel rules.”
But that resolution, strangely, was not recorded in the minutes, as at least some other resolutions were during this period. The City Clerk’s office has searched and cannot find any other record of the personnel rules resolution, and they have not located the personnel rules of the time.
So we cannot say what the resolution itself said.
Shuster has also noted to ELi that there is nothing in the March 7 minutes indicating that the personnel rules resolution was itself voted upon and passed.
Nevertheless, it is clear according to the minutes that the Council did vote specifically on a motion by Griffiths, seconded by Colburn, stating that “The main objective of our recruitment and selection program is to employ the best applicant for each vacancy on the basis of his qualifications for the job and without regard to race, color, creed, national origin, sex or homosexuality.”
This motion was voted through 4-1, with Griffiths, Colburn, Sharp, and Brookover in favor, and Wilcox against.
The motion was pretty narrow, and was immediately followed by a second change that was soon withdrawn.
The landmark anti-discrimination vote that passed in March 1972 only applied to hiring by the City – not private employers – and it only spoke to the hiring process. It did not protect gay men and lesbians from discrimination in the promotion process, in housing, or from discrimination by other employers.
The minutes of March 1972 also show that, immediately after the anti-discrimination motion passed, a Council majority passed another motion stating: “Solicitation or recruitment for homosexual behavior while on the job shall be deemed misconduct and an interference with the normal operation of the City.”
In this case, Brookover sided with Sharp and Wilcox, passing the measure, while Colburn and Griffiths voted against. And just to be clear, there does not seem to have been any move to make “solicitation or recruitment” for heterosexual behavior while on the job count as misconduct. This vote specifically targeted “homosexual solicitation or recruitment” at work as the basis of “misconduct.”
Nevertheless, just two weeks later, that latter motion was undone.
According to the minutes for the Council meeting of March 21, 1972, Sharp requested that the matter of that new “misconduct” definition be reconsidered. It was, and the misconduct definition specific to “solicitation or recruitment for homosexual behavior” was removed, with Sharp, Colburn, Griffiths, and Wilcox voting in favor of its removal, and Brookover voting against.
In the City Pulse article from 2012, Cosentino reported that it was Brookover who had “pushed for a supplemental rule making homosexual solicitation on the job ‘misconduct.’” But, while it may have been “pushed” by Brookover, the approved minutes show the additional misconduct language was originally moved by Sharp, and seconded by Wilcox.
Cosentino reported that “Sharp later regretted her ‘yea,’” and indeed, as noted above, it was Sharp who moved to undo the new “misconduct” definition.
So, at least according to the records, Sharp moved to include the “misconduct” definition and then moved to remove it. Sharp is the person in whose honor the red sculpture outside City Hall was erected. According to the City’s page on the sculpture, Sharp “was a trailblazer who passionately advocated for equality and civil rights for all people.”
Protections for members of the LGBTQ+ community in East Lansing were expanded in the continuing decades.
A little over a year after the landmark City-employment protection, on May 15, 1973, the City Council voted through Ordinance 325, which made it “contrary to the public policy of the City of East Lansing for any employer” to discriminate on the bases of sex, sexual beliefs or sexual orientation “with respect to hire, tenure, terms, conditions or privileges of employment unless such refusal to hire or discrimination is based on a bona fide occupational qualification.”
The ordinance did not indicate what would make a “bona fide occupational” reason for discrimination. And the ordinance’s section on housing specifically still left gay people (as well as bi and transgender people) vulnerable to discrimination, prohibiting discrimination only on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
But Ordinance 325 did add sexual orientation to the protections list in terms of government housing, hotel and motel accommodations, restaurants, public educational institutions, “and all other places of public accommodation, amusement, and recreation.”
Then, in 1992, Council voted 3-0 to pass Policy Resolution 1992-8, which extended domestic partner benefits to “full-time regular City employees who are either not represented by a collective bargaining union or whose collective bargaining union has affirmatively accepted this benefit.” The measure was signed by Mayor Liz Schweitzer.
In 2002, the City Council passed Ordinance 977, which extended protections to transgender people by defining “sexual orientation” in the law to mean “being or regarded as being heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or transgendered, or having a history of such identification.”
Ten years later, in 2012, the Council passed Ordinance 1275, which established protections on the basis of “gender identity or expression,” meaning “a person’s actual or perceived gender, including a person’s self-image, appearance, expression, or behavior, whether or not that self-image, appearance, expression, or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s biological sex as assigned at birth.” Sexual orientation was redefined as “being or regarded as being heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or having a history of such identification.”
The Country Mill lawsuit against the City – centered on the City’s 2017 decision to try to ban that vendor from the farmers’ market because they refused to host same-gender weddings on their farm in Charlotte, Michigan – has now been ongoing in federal court for four years. Read more about that here.
In September 2019, following an initiative of now-Mayor Aaron Stephens, Council voted 3-2 to make the practice of “conversion therapy” a criminal offense in East Lansing. But as ELi explained, if challenged, this law is unlikely to stand because the City does not have the power, under State law, to criminalize this practice as defined. Read more about that here.
This year, Council passed a resolution to honor Pride Month, which you can view here.