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All Politics is Loco: Why Dearborn Heights is a big deal

By |2018-01-15T20:42:51-05:00October 20th, 2005|Opinions|

By Sean Kosofsky

It is one of the most difficult moments for activists. You get a call saying that in thirty-six hours a major policy decision is being made that will affect your cause but a major problem is brewing. You might be asked to compromise something that means a lot to you, in order to have a victory. This is what happened in Dearborn Heights.
After a series of hate crimes in Wayne County sparked community outrage, a prominent Republican activist and Dearborn Heights city councilwoman decided to draft a human rights ordinance for her city. Margaret Van Houten is a member of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, but is no supporter of GLBT rights. Her colleagues on city council told her the ordinance she drafted was lacking protections based on “sexual orientation,” so they added it against her objections.
A constituent called me on Monday, October 10 saying the ordinance was coming to a vote the next night. There was some speculation that the gay inclusive language might have harmed the chances for the ordinance to become law. The goal was not only to keep the existing language intact, but to convince a majority of the Council to support adding even more new language to protect the transgender community. We had to quickly become versed in the local politics and get key legal and constituent voices to the table.
It was amazing. The entire city council, except Van Houten, was very responsive and very open-minded about the new language. Some feared that last minute changes could doom the ordinance and that adding “new groups” may be too ambitious. But, nearly everyone agreed that we needed to do it right the first time, and that it was unlikely the city would add transgender protections after the dust settled. It had to be now.
The very woman who drafted the ordinance, who objected to the GLBT protections, was now in a predicament. She either had to vote against her own ordinance, or vote for GLBT rights. Van Houten caved and decided that it was more important to have this ordinance than to stall or hold up the process because of her personal views.
In the end, the Dearborn Heights City Council sent a powerful and lasting message to its constituents. It voted unanimously to approve the ordinance with the GLBT inclusive language and not one person from the audience stood to object (knock on wood). This was a breath of fresh air after witnessing countless anti-GLBT tirades at public meetings in towns like Ferndale, Royal Oak, Ypsilanti and others. I thanked the Council and even Van Houten for bringing the ordinance to the city, and for ultimately giving it her endorsement.
It felt really good to win, but activists and conservative Republicans should take notice. Too often, sound policies are held up because they might benefit the GLBT community. If Dearborn Heights can end the gridlock, why not other welcoming cities? I think Dearborn Heights signals a shift. The bar has been raised. Years of relationship building and public education helped this happen. Most importantly, Dearborn Heights has a city council of open minded, educated, and committed public servants who were determined to make their community a better and more inclusive place than how they found it.
Please thank Mayor Dan Paletko, who showed strong leadership for our rights. Call 313-791-3490 or email You can find contact info for the rest of the Council at

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.