I grew up in Allouez, Wisconsin, one of several suburbs adjacent to the city of Green Bay. Green Bay is a typical medium-sized middle-class city, one that the average American wouldn’t know about at all were it not for the presence of a certain football team. The people of Green Bay are, by and large, good and hardworking folks, well-meaning if a little insular. Green Bay was a good place in which to grow up, and I still harbor great affection for the city that shaped me and deep love for my many wonderful family members and friends who still call it home.
Politically and culturally, the area trends conservative, which makes life more difficult for its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender residents. However, Green Bay has made many wonderful strides toward acceptance and affirmation of LGBT people in recent years. In the wake of a bitter and divisive 2006 ballot fight that resulted in a marriage discrimination amendment being added to Wisconsin’s constitution, community leaders in Green Bay decided to hold a Pride festival. The city’s Republican mayor has appeared several times at the festival and even gave an address in 2009. This summer marked the fourth year of Northeast Wisconsin Pride, and it’s still growing. Green Bay is home to a vocal, actively LGBT-affirming church. A dedicated group of LGBTs and allies (including, I’m proud to say, my own parents) consistently works to make the city’s public spaces, schools, churches, and culture more accepting of all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. Green Bay-area residents even banded together last January to record an anti-bullying video.
Unfortunately, while the people of Green Bay are continuing to move towards acceptance, their elected officials use local government to engage in anti-LGBT bullying. In November 2010, after a city employee named David Fowles formally requested domestic partner health care coverage from the City of Green Bay, Tea Party-backed City Council Alderman Shae Sortwell introduced a resolution for the city to officially join Wisconsin Family Action’s lawsuit aimed at dismantling the statewide domestic partnership registry. Local leaders, LGBT community members, allies, and the statewide LGBT rights organization Fair Wisconsin fought back, and 100 people attended a City Council meeting to show their opposition to Sortwell’s mean-spirited measure. The council voted 9-2 to table the resolution indefinitely, and WFA’s lawsuit was later defeated in court.
The Green Bay City Council wasn’t done spitting in the face of the city’s LGBT community, though. At a meeting of the council’s Personnel Committee last night, Alderman Ned Dorff again raised the issue of benefits for same-sex partners of city workers, calling the city’s current exclusionary policy “discriminatory” and saying that Green Bay is “discriminating against a certain segment of our work force. I see this definitely as a social justice issue.” The committee, however, disagreed, voting 3-0 against recommending the city offer domestic partner benefits, including health care. The measure will go before the full City Council next month, so it’s possible that they’ll choose to ignore the committee and actually uphold the human dignity of LGBT people for a change. To be honest, though, I’m not holding my breath.
Incidentally, if you’d like to make your opinions known to members of the Green Bay City Council, contact information for each alderperson can be found here. The three committee members who voted against basic protections for LGBT workers are Anthony Theisen, Chris Wery, and Steven Denys. Conversely, feel free to send messages of encouragement to Ned Dorff and Amy Kocha, the two most outspoken pro-LGBT voices on the City Council.