Positive LGBTQ report triggers lengthy debate at Green Bay city council meeting

After a report finds the city is more inclusive, an alderman questioned whether people with strongly held religious beliefs are being discriminated against
Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 10:37 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - At Tuesday night’s Green Bay city council meeting, a presentation by a non-profit on how inclusive the city is towards LGBTQ+ people turned into a heated and lengthy debate.

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization. Tuesday, it discussed a report that received pushback from some council members, including council president Jesse Brunette.

“I can’t stand the thought of people who have the very essence of who they are is guided by their faith, the belief that God created them, and to kind of limit the rights of those people and their expressions and to force them to do things that perhaps that they are not comfortable doing that will be in direct violation of their faith. That’s not right, either,” Brunette said.

The group presented to the City of Green Bay its Municipal Equality Score before alders. It examines how inclusive a city’s policies and ordinances are. Green Bay scored an 84 out of 100 in 2022, an improvement from 2016 when the city scored a 40. Madison and Milwaukee both scored 100. Appleton scored a 94.

But Alderman Brunette took issue with the report. He questioned whether people with strongly held religious beliefs are being discriminated against. His comments drew backlash from people in attendance.

“We are talking about human rights. We are talking expanding freedom for all, so that every person in our city -- regardless of who you are, who you love, how you dress, who you want to marry, how you want to speak with your doctor -- is the same for every single person,” state Rep. Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay) said.

Brunette’s comments also drew the ire from the chairwoman of the city’s Equal Rights Commission, which consists of nine members.

“That’s exactly how some of our community members and allies feel today. They feel that they can’t even step into the public without feeling unsafe, without having to hide who they are,” Chairwoman Tara Yang told alders, even breaking down into tears on the podium while sharing her family’s immigration story after escaping war-torn Vietnam.

Brunette, however, rebuffed any notions he was against the LGBTQ+ community in Green Bay and says the views of people with strong convictions around their faith need to be taken into consideration when crafting policies and ordinances.

“I fought to put these religion rights and rights of individuals because while it’s true we protect religion. We don’t protect individuals who act in their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Brunette said.

Shelton defended the LGBTQ+ community, saying they are oppressed and suffering from high levels of suicide ideation.

“The difference here between religion [Brunette] is you can choose your religion. We don’t get to choose who we love and who we are. This is who we are,” Shelton said.

The council voted for having staff look into the report’s findings and suggestions, and also what Brunette said.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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