The rainbow flag, raised in the city of Detroit for the first time, will fly in Hart Plaza during LGBTQ Pride Month in June. Facebook photo

Historic Flag Raising Event Honors Symbol of LGBTQ Rights

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

As a gay man who has been out since the age of 15, Curtis Lipscomb said he remembers the time when many LGBTQ people were too afraid to walk the streets of Detroit because "we were afraid to be who we are, but many of us fought because we wanted this space to be safe."

It was a "wonderful, glorious day" for Lipscomb, the executive director of LGBT Detroit, among others, on Tuesday when Detroit Police Department Chief James Craig announced his commitment to making sure Detroit is that safe space where everyone is welcome.

"We are a community committed to inclusiveness where everyone matters and everyone can contribute," said Craig while the city of Detroit for the first time raised the rainbow flag at Hart Plaza in honor of LGBTQ Pride Month. The flag, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, will continue to fly throughout the month of June.

"This is Detroit. This is freedom. This is change and this is great," said Lipscomb to the 100 or so activists, community members and city representatives in attendance.

This change comes long after Jeff Montgomery, who died in July 2016, started the work being done now by various LGBTQ rights organizations.

"The relationship between the LGBTQ community and the police in 1991 was to say the least, not as good as it is today. It was bad. It was hostile. Our lives were not taken seriously, crimes against our community were not taken seriously, and Jeff Montgomery and others stood up and said, 'No more.' Our lives matter. We are part of the fabric of this city and we demand full justice and full representation," said Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan, the statewide anti-violence and advocacy organization founded as the Triangle Foundation by Montgomery in 1991.

White said, "It means a lot" 25 years later to stand in partnership with the DPD. Craig said during his speech that raising the rainbow flag is a small gesture, but "It says a lot for our community, that Detroit has got your back."

Many times, that small, symbolic gesture is all that LGBTQ people can get, according to White.

"That's the first thing we get. We say 'Can you please just at least put up a little flag?' or something that says you don't hate us, that we're welcome, that we're part of this community, and if we get that win, we take it as a first step," she said.

Detroit Police Department Chief James Craig and LGBTQ Liaison Dani Woods spoke with activists, community members and city representatives during a rainbow flag raising ceremony, signifying that Detroit is an inclusive community. BTL Photo: Kate Opalewski

Since the '70s, Craig said Detroit has taken steps to enact ordinances to protect lesbian, gay and bisexual people from discrimination in housing, employment and many other areas were equality has been threatened. Nearly 10 years ago, he said, the city took yet another progressive and necessary step by providing these same protections to transgender citizens also.

"But laws aren't enough. We must stand behind the commitment we have made to our citizens even when it sometimes is unpopular to do so," he said. Craig noted that during his time as police chief in Portland, Maine and Cincinnati, Ohio, he learned the value of building trust and respect between the LGBTQ community and law enforcement officers.

Upon starting his tenure in Detroit in 2013, Craig has made certain that cadets going through the Police Academy receive LGBTQ training and that every active officer receives additional training on an annual basis. Craig appointed the DPD's first LGBTQ Liaison Officer Dani Woods when he took office.

These are some of the intentional efforts that lead to Detroit scoring 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign's 2016 Municipal Equality Index, which examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies, and services are of the LGBTQ people who live and work there.

"I like to say that is not by accident," said Craig. "City council as well as previous administrations have long seen the value of having city laws that protect the LGBTQ community. It's also because Mayor Duggan has hired some of the nation's best and brightest LGBTQ men and women for top positions in his administration."

White reiterated what a "big deal" it is to receive this recognition.

"I will back you up on that. That does not happen on accident. You have to do a lot of work so thank you, and thank you for this symbol today because it rises high above Hart Plaza. It shows everybody that comes by that all of us are welcome here, all of us are part of this city," she said. "It feels like a cherry on top of the cake. I don't want to say the work is done. The work is never done. We love Detroit. We're so proud and happy. Sometimes we might be critical lovers, but we only want what's best for everybody."

Around 100 or so people gathered in Hart Plaza Tuesday to honor LGBTQ Pride Month during a flag raising ceremony. BTL Photo: Kate Opalewski

Sabin Blake was there to show support for the LGBTQ community and its allies. As the community outreach manager for General Motors, Blake said the company cares about issues like this. That is indicated by the rainbow lights on the Renaissance Center, GM's World Headquarters, not far from Hart Plaza.

"Being welcoming and inclusive is important for us and our employees. Standing up matters. Being visible matters," he said.

The flag raising event also signified the start of Motor City Pride this weekend.

"One of our goals is to show that Detroit and Southeast Michigan is a place where we can all live, work and raise our families," said Dave Wait, chair of Motor City Pride, who helped Craig raise the flag. "By having the festival we hope to demonstrate that."

Visit http://www.motorcitypride.org to download the Motor City Pride Guide for a list of events June 10-11.
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