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BTL Exclusive Interview: Freman Hendrix: ‘I want to be everybody’s mayor’

By |2018-01-16T05:23:35-05:00October 20th, 2005|News|

DETROIT – Freman Hendrix is campaigning hard to become the next Mayor of Detroit. He currently has a double-digit lead in the polls over incumbent Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, but as the Nov. 2 election gets closer, experts predict the margin will shrink substantially. No one is calling this election yet, especially Hendrix himself.
Hendrix, who was deputy mayor in the Dennis Archer Administration, has mixed positions on LGBT issues. He supports domestic partner benefits for city employees and said he would work to get them passed. He would welcome qualified LGBT people into a Hendrix administration, yet he knows few LGBT people and he is unfamiliar with some of the most pressing LGBT issues. He was unaware that LGBT people do not have any legal protections in employment under state and federal law. Although he supports the repeal of the anti-marriage constitutional amendment approved by state voters last November as Proposal 2, as Mayor he would not officiate at same-sex commitment ceremonies. He is unfamiliar with Hotter Than July!, Detroit’s annual Black Gay Pride Celebration.
Hendrix sat down with BTL co-publisher Jan Stevenson Oct. 13 to discuss his campaign, his hopes for LGBT support, and where he currently stands on important LGBT issues. Here is what he had to say about the LGBT community’s relations with the police and other city departments, his own experiences with the LGBT community and more:

Between The Lines: Political activism in the gay community is high, and getting ever higher after passage of Proposal 2 last November. Any gay person in Michigan who didn’t know it already, is now convinced that political right-wing activism really can hurt us. Are you interested in getting support from Detroit’s politically active gay community for your campaign?
Freman Hendrix: I would love to have the support of the gay community. I want to make a statement to you as a backdrop or as a prep. I am trying to be the Mayor of Detroit and to be everybody’s mayor, without exclusion. I believe that if we are going to be a great city, a progressive city, and I would like to see Detroit become an international gateway to the world, [we need to welcome] the huddled masses to come to Detroit as one avenue to repopulate our community. I would like to have a really broad, open door policy and that no one should be able to say that they are unwelcome or that that I am an unfriendly mayor to any group of people.
Now the other side of that coin is that we are not going to be doing back flips for anybody. This is a leveling of the playing field so that everybody has the opportunity to make the most of their God-given talents. And I have said that to my Latino friends who have wanted a special little person that they selected to put in my office, I have said that to my Arab friends who they wanted me to set up a special little office for them, and I have said that to my Labor friends, and to all of my various groups who I have supported. The rules of engagement are clean.
BTL: Do you support Detroit’s City Charter, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation?
Hendrix: Yes.
BTL: There is no enforcement of this charter provision – no investigators, no investigations, no budget. Would you mandate funds for the Human Rights Commission so it can fulfill its chartered responsibility?
Hendrix: Yeah, I would, but everything related to money now is going to be in the context of a $300 million deficit. That’s the backdrop, but the short answer is yes. We have to make sure that the priorities are ordered in every department. Enforcements are important, regulatory enforcements are important, charter enforcements. We want people to pick up – so yes, yes.
BTL: I read your Roadmap [document describing a complete plan for Detroit, available at http://www.fremanhendrix.com].
Hendrix: What did you think?
BTL: I thought it was impressive and complete.
Hendrix: Good. I worked long and hard on it. I wanted to give the reader not just some of my ideas, but examples of where around the country certain things are happening that I admire, and that my leadership style will be one of a collaborative nature. Bringing people to table.
BTL: The Roadmap talks a great deal about churches, civic organizations, developers and entrepreneurs as important parts of any revitalization of Detroit. At the very end of the section on neighborhoods, you mention the work of Richard Florida and his book, “The Rise of the Creative Class.” You say, and I quote: ‘These folks often do not fit easily into pre-conceived notions of race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation and indeed appearance. And because of that, they value openness to diversity and difference. We should too, if we want our city to be the thriving, growing environment that we know it can be.’
In Detroit, many gay people don’t ‘feel the love.’ They have been ignored or abused by the Mayor’s office, and issues with police harassment have often gone unaddressed. For us, the windows are already broken, harkening to the broken windows philosophy you cite in your Roadmap.
Hendrix: How does a police officer know that a particular person is gay? People don’t walk around with a sign on their back.
BTL: Well, some of the more high profile situations have been in Rouge Park where the police have had a sting operation, or when the police have come into gay bars…
Hendrix: The gay bar – that’s off limits. But maybe there is somewhere other than Rouge Park where folks should be hanging out. Know what I’m saying? I mean, people aren’t walking around with a sign saying, ‘I’m gay,’ I mean we shouldn’t be targeting bars or establishments that happen to be gay more than anything else. I’m hearing what you’re saying, but let’s not confuse Rouge Park with a bar, with any bar. A topless bar – if I hear things are out of sync with what is appropriate in a topless bar, guess what – I’m busting in there. Bars are bars, and without regard to gender or anything else they need to be left alone for what they are intended for, you know, grown up entertainment, drinking and libations, socializing and so forth.
What – do you think that’s not good enough?
BTL: Well, I think what I’m going at is that there are a lot of gay people who live in Detroit. Particularly there is a very strong African-American gay community in Detroit. To the police and other city offices, the gay community is largely invisible. When things come up and they require city services, a lot of city employees don’t know how to handle them or their situations. They don’t know what to make of a gay family. Some cities are better than others in welcoming the gay community than Detroit. As Mayor, what would you do to make your open door policy more effective than other mayors of Detroit? How would you do that?
Hendrix: Well, what do you think? What would you like to see the mayor do?
BTL: I’m glad you asked! In your Roadmap document you often mention Boston and New York City as two examples of cities that have come back and rebuilt their neighborhoods – some from the ground up. Both of those cities have something else in common, too – they both offer domestic partner benefits to their city employees, and they have strong liaisons to their gay communities within the mayor’s office.
Hendrix: Are we doing that in Detroit?
BTL: No. Neither one of them.
Hendrix: Well I know we won’t be doing the liaison. What’s the holdup on the domestic partnership benefits?
BTL: Well, leadership has been the main problem. The last time DP benefits came up was in the Archer administration. To make a long story short, Archer said he would sign legislation if the City Council passed it, the City Council said they would support domestic partner benefits if the Mayor instituted them. So it ended up going nowhere. Now Detroit is one of the few major cities in the country that does not offer domestic partner benefits to its employees.
Hendrix: Right.
BTL: It’s also a political problem, many of the powerful churches in Detroit have voiced opposition to domestic partner benefits. But it’s a big miss, and it sends a strong message. What do you think?
Hendrix: I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy in many of our churches where the gay community is concerned, as you well know. So are you asking me a question? What’s the question?
BTL: Would you support DP benefits?
Hendrix: Yes.
BTL: And you would actively work for them to be passed for city employees?
Hendrix: Yes.
BTL: We have already dealt with the liaison question, so I guess that’s off the table.
Hendrix: You know, there will undoubtedly be gay and straight people in my administration. I’m not going to type somebody into a category; ‘OK, so you’re the Lebanese guy, so just deal with Lebanese issues, you’re the Arab guy, so I want you to deal with the Arab community.’ I think there is more for a person to do, regardless of gender. My finance person may be gay, or anyone else, and maybe they’ll double, you know. When I took a job with Ed McNamara in 1990 as the highest-ranking African American inside of the executive office [of Wayne County] my responsibility was legislative – federal state and local. But I became the de facto Black guy in the office for all Black employees. And I valued it, and I accepted the responsibility. So I’m not big on having a person inside.
BTL: So if someone in the gay community had an issue and wanted to talk to you about, what should they do?
Hendrix: Call me. I haven’t talked specifically how I am going to structure my administration, but certainly having someone who would deal with those issues would be permissible.
I know that when we were in office [Mayor Archer’s administration], I remember Rudy Serra approaching me personally and asking if we would consider appointing him to the Human Rights Commission. ‘I have some great ides, etc., and by the way I’m gay and I would like to make sure that voice is heard on the HRC.’ I said, ‘yeah, sure.’ So, there was representation there. There was conflict there, too. The director was a good church-going lady who was resistant to having someone who would push when it came to policy and issues in her department that would effect city government. I always thought it was important to listen to those differing opinions, recognizing the two sides.
BTL: Many LGBT police and firefighters in Detroit do not feel safe coming out at work – they fear for their personal safety and their jobs. Using Boston and New York City as examples again, both cities have active LGBT employee groups in their police and fire departments. Would you support a LGBT employee group in the Detroit police and fire departments?
Hendrix: I wouldn’t oppose it, but I wouldn’t be out there carrying a badge. You want to do that, go do it. It’s your right. I have no problem with that.
BTL: Would you support the hiring of openly gay police and firefighters?
Hendrix: Why not? If you can do the job.
BTL: In your Roadmap document, you talk about “Zero Tolerance” for crime as a way to rebuild neighborhood trust and pride. Would you be willing to also speak out for zero tolerance of LGBT discrimination?
Hendrix: I support a zero tolerance for discrimination against anybody. See what I mean here? – equity for anybody. It’s against the law, at least last time I checked, to discriminate against any group.
BTL: Not against gay people.
Hendrix: It’s not against the law? Someone comes to get a job and I said, ‘Oh, you’re gay. I’m not hiring you.’ You can’t file a suit?
BTL: No – not under any state or federal law.
Hendrix: Well, I am shocked to hear that. What’s your next question?
BTL: As Mayor, would you be willing to preside at same-sex commitment ceremonies?
Hendrix: No, I won’t.
BTL: Why not?
Hendrix: I just think that would be a little more charged than where I would want to get in representing my broader community. I think that for some people out there dealing with this issue, it is real difficult for them. They are adamantly opposed to it. Me saying that I support equal rights, equal jobs, equal benefits for all of my citizens is one thing. Me bringing someone into holy matrimony is taking it to another level. For some people it is religious, spiritual, it’s Godly. For me, that could drive some divisions into my community that could conceivably impact my ability to govern as a mayor. So I don’t object to it, and I am ready to go to a pulpit or anywhere else to say that I, as mayor, am everyone’s mayor. But that, I am not prepared to do.
BTL: Do you support the repeal of the state’s constitutional amendment approved in Proposal 2?
Hendrix: Yes. I don’t remember all the specific details. But I remember as we were campaigning against that amendment, a lot of us who were strong in the labor unions and in other areas recognized that the amendment had other ramifications even beyond the gay community if someone really wanted to stretch the interpretation. I think from that standpoint it can hurt the state. It can be taken too far.
BTL: What has been your experience and/or involvement with the gay community?
Hendrix: Not a lot. Not a whole lot.
BTL: Are you familiar with Hotter Than July!, the annual Black Gay Pride Celebration in Detroit?
Hendrix: No, where is it?
BTL: Here in Detroit.
Hendrix: No – I’m not familiar with it. I guess I have been sheltered. In the closet actually (laughter). No I didn’t know about it. There has not been a lot of interaction in a formal way. Everybody’s got friends that fall all over the spectrum, and I guess I’m no different in that respect.
BTL: The leaders of Hotter Than July! have had difficulty getting face time, to get on the agenda to talk about the issues that face the Black gay community in Detroit.
Hendrix: I think I said earlier that there would always be an open door policy and that there would be someone in the mayor’s office that represents a point of contact. But I can’t meet with all of the hundreds of groups that want regular contact with me. I’ll be running around the city trying to solve the pressing problems for the people of the City of Detroit. If an issue comes up, then yes, I’ll meet.
BTL: A liaison would help.
Hendrix: Yes, maybe. That person could make the determination when something needs to be pushed up. If there is something of a critical nature that needs to be dealt with, they could figure out what level of government needs to deal with it. That’s for everybody – for every group.

****Note: BTL has requested an interview with Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, which is scheduled to run in next week’s edition of the paper. Watch for that and BTL’s endorsement in the Detroit mayoral race next week.

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