Q&A with Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter
This week’s special Pride Issue installment for the BTL series, Michigan Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination, features Ferndale’s own openly gay mayor, Dave Coulter. Coulter has been mayor of Ferndale since 2011.
Formerly a civil engineering draftsman and public school teacher, Coulter worked for 13 years in public affairs at the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company and served as executive director of the nonprofit Michigan AIDS Fund. He is currently the program officer for the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation.
Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination is a bipartisan coalition of municipal leaders dedicated to securing inclusive non-discrimination protections for all, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, at all levels of government. It is a program of Freedom for All Americans, the bipartisan campaign to win comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination protections nationwide. Since its inception, membership in Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination has grown to 307 mayors in 48 states and the District of Columbia, including 19 mayors in Michigan.
Why did you join Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination?
With the current politics in Washington, it’s more important than ever that local communities and leaders join together to send strong, collective messages about fairness, equality and a whole host of issues. Together we can be stronger than the divisiveness before us.
How does your city promote fairness, diversity and inclusion, and why is that important?
Ferndale has been an important city in the fight for LGBT equality for decades now. As a result, we pride ourselves in leading on this issue and we incorporate policies, procedures and laws in Ferndale that reflect this commitment. Just last year we officially became a Welcoming City, another example of making sure people know they are safe and welcome in Ferndale.
As mayor, what role do you play in challenging discrimination, and making your city more inclusive?
Mayors can both lead by example and use their platform to raise awareness of issues around discrimination and inclusion.
How do you ensure that your city’s objectives are consistently reflected in the actions of municipal employees?
One way we measure ourselves is by the Human Rights Campaign index, which we have used over the years to make sure our practices reflect our intentions. I’m proud that we have consistently raised our score, and we continue to work with them to make sure all areas of our community reflect our core values of inclusion.
What is your vision for your city 10 years from now, in terms of being a welcoming place to live, work and operate a business?
My hope is that in a decade the fact that someone is LGBT will be irrelevant to whether they feel safe and welcome and included in this community. I believe we’re actually a lot further than most in that area, but there’s more we can do to reduce those barriers and work towards full inclusion and equality.
What drew you to Ferndale? What is it like for you, personally, living in an inclusive city?
I actually discovered Ferndale by chance, but I quickly realized that this was a special community. There is a friendliness and small town feel to it, and I also quickly realized there was a significant LGBT community here that was not just “tolerated” but respected and appreciated by the larger community. I will always be grateful for discovering this town and the people here who made me feel immediately welcomed and included.
In October, Ferndale was one of the first municipalities in the U.S. to permanently install the Pride flag. How did that come to be, and why is that significant?
We had some water damage in City Hall from the flood a few years ago, and we were doing some internal repairs. As part of the restoration, we redid the wall behind the council table which had five flags. When we divided the flags to put our city logo in the middle of the wall we realized we needed a sixth flag, and I asked our council members their thoughts about a pride flag. We were all very excited about it, not only to recognize the significant role of the LGBT community in Ferndale history but to ensure that in the future anyone who comes to our council meetings will immediately know this to be a safe and inclusive place. I couldn’t find another city in the country that had done this, and we love breaking new ground in Ferndale!
In news stories you are frequently referred to as “Dave Coulter, Ferndale’s openly gay mayor.” What else should readers know about you?
Like all of us, there’s much more that defines me than my sexuality. I’m passionate about politics and government, of course, but I also love sports (especially Michigan State), traveling and the front car of any roller coaster! Most important to me are my family and friends, and I am fortunate to have a wonderful network of people who love and encourage me. They are the ones that give me the strength to do the work I am privileged to do.