Saint Joe's 'Non-Discrimination Ordinance' to allow protection for race, color, sexuality

Making sure everyone feels welcome. That’s what city leaders in Saint Joseph, Michigan say their goal is in implementing a non-discrimination ordinance.

Saint Joseph is the first community in Berrien, Cass, or Van Buren Counties to plan on implementing a non-discrimination ordinance, which would allow equal protection for people on things like race, color, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.

“A focus recently with the Civil Rights Commission as to whether sex includes sexual identity and gender orientation,” said St. Joseph City Manager John Hodgson. “They came to the conclusion that it did last May, so that’s really the change here.”

Discrimination could appear in the form of housing or employment.

“If somebody wanted to rent an apartment and was told they couldn’t because of their sexual orientation. That’s the kind of thing we’d receive a complaint on,” said Hodgson.

Those complaints would need to be received in writing within 180 days of the incident.

The city could take someone to court for a fine of $500 if they don’t comply.

“It’s actually written as a misdemeanor,” said Hodgson. “If a complaint comes in, first we look at it, and if it should be referred to another agency, we start there.”

Mary Jo Schnell, with the OutCenter in Benton Harbor, said discrimination happens more often than people think.

“Suddenly realizes that in this area they can’t put that photo of who they are on their desk, for fear of being fired,” said Schnell. “Those are real calls we get.”

She said if the ordinance passes, it would be a morale booster for the LGBTQ community.

“I think it sends a message to current residents that might be concerned and have expressed concern to us that maybe they don’t have to move out of the city of Saint Joe,” said Schnell.

The flags on the sign above say Welcome, and Hodgson said that’s the city’s goal.

“Everyone should feel welcome and safe,” Hodgson said.

As for people against this ordinance, the city says they haven’t had anyone come forward.

The ordinance will have its second reading on March 11 and then go into effect 10 days later.