Student asks city of Greenville to adopt a nondiscrimination ordinance

By Kelli Ameling • Last Updated 11:18 am on Wednesday, May 22, 2013

GREENVILLE — The Greenville City Hall was more full than normal Tuesday, after many people came to support a student who asked the City Council to help him make a difference.

Justin Barr, a junior at Greenville High School, spoke to council members during public comment.

Barr’s concern was the fact the city does not have a nondiscrimination ordinance. He noted it is not required for a city to have such an ordinance and it is common for cities to rely on federal and state laws.

“At the federal level, it is illegal to discriminate based on factors such as race, religion, age, sex, just to mention a few,” Barr said. “It is a common misconception that it is illegal to do the same based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Federal laws do not protect against discrimination based on these attributes.”

Barr said there are currently 23 states — including Michigan — that do not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. He said because of this, it is legal to fire someone, deny them access to a house, refuse to serve them in a business and more because of who they love.

Barr did research on actions other cities in Michigan have taken to address this issue. He said cities such as Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Lansing have adopted non-discrimination ordinances that include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Some people may say that this is not needed in Greenville; however, experience has proven otherwise,” Barr said. “There are several staff that work at Greenville Public Schools who are gay. Everyday, they have to hide who they are for fear of being fired because of it. For years, people have tried to get sexual orientation included in the teacher contracts at no avail. I do not know about you, but I believe that a teacher should not be fired based on who they chose to love, rather than their merit and ability to teach and inspire our future generation.”

Barr concluded by asking the council to work on drafting and adopting a non-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

“This is just one example of why I am here today, to ask that Greenville live up to its mission to serve through leadership and action,” Barr said.

A few people stood and spoke regarding the support they have for what Barr is trying to do. An unidentified Greenville resident expressed why she believed Barr’s cause was important, especially because of him taking on a big task at such a young age.

“Come on, Greenville, let’s do something that is right for the whole community,” the woman said. “We need to come into this century. We need to support this cause.”

Mark Wilkins of Eureka Township also voiced his support.

“I would like to see Eureka Township develop something of this nature,” Wilkins said. “It’s important.”

Harriette Cook and Sam Jones Darling also voiced their support.

“I would like to thank Justin and everyone who came out to support him,” said Councilman Larry Moss. “I would also like to express my support. I think this is something Greenville should be doing — it’s a grassroots movement.”

Moss said maybe by doing something like this, Greenville can be on the front line.

“Maybe we can make a difference,” he said. “I support this and I am happy to help draft the ordinance.”

Mayor John Hoppough also thanked Barr for talking about the issue, and noted Barr’s comments are on the record for the future.

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