By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
DETROIT – While supporters of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick were celebrating the inauguration of his second term, leaders in Detroit’s LGBT community were expressing cautious hopes that, this time, Kilpatrick “gets it” about LGBT issues.
“I think that during his campaign I often heard him say, ‘I think I’ve got it,’ and I’m hopeful that he was sincere about that,” said Michelle Brown, a member of the Board of Governors of the Human Rights Campaign. “But it also made me think about when you were a kid and your parents would fuss with you and you’d say, ‘Yes, I hear you!’ and sometimes you did and sometimes you didn’t. So I think it’s up to us to hold his feet to the fire and make sure that he does get it, and that the second term is better.”
“I think he realizes that he’s vulnerable and that he’s got some making up to do,” said Sean Kosofsky, policy director of the Triangle Foundation. “We’re eager to work with this mayor if he will work with us.”
“I wasn’t originally a Kilpatrick supporter but I think it’s important – he’s in office for the next four years, so I think it’s important that we support and encourage him to improve Detroit, period,” said Johnnie Jenkins, co-founder and director of the Detroit Black Pride Society.
“He was very honest [during the campaign] – he said that there’s some things he agrees with us on and some things he doesn’t, and he said he’s willing to work with us,” added Jenkins. “At the end of the day that’s all you can ask for, especially in a city like Detroit.”
During an October 2005 interview with Between The Lines, Kilpatrick addressed LGBT community concerns with BTL Publisher Jan Stevenson. (See “Kilpatrick: ‘You learn more as you go along,'” online at www.pridesource.com.)
During the interview, Kilpatrick said he regretted any hurt he may have caused by anti-gay remarks he made during his first run for mayor. He also answered questions regarding domestic partner benefits, diversity training for the Detroit Police Department, enforcement of the human rights provisions of the Detroit City Charter and other concerns.
In addition to reaching out to the LGBT community through the BTL interview, Kilpatrick also conducted an October fundraiser at Off Broadway East, a gay bar in Detroit.
During his BTL interview, Kilpatrick told Stevenson, “I think our city is in a position where we are ready to accept the world, we are ready to accept the global mind, we are ready to accept a new economy, we are ready to host a Super Bowl. I have learned that the gay community is a very, very important part of that.”
However, his answer to questions about domestic partner benefits, enforcing the human rights provisions of the city charter and providing diversity training to the police department left Kosofsky unimpressed.
Asked in October whether the city would be extending domestic partner benefits to the families of LGBT employees, Kilpatrick said, “Well, that means our benefits may go up another $10 to $15 million which means I would have to cut more than $15 million from the budget.”
“That’s not true at all,” Kosofsky said. “[DP] Benefits account for less than one percent of all health care costs for any institution that offers them, and it’s usually less than one percent.” (During the interview Kilpatrick said of the overall benefits budget, “Our benefits have gone up $120 million in three years since I’ve been here.”)
Kilpatrick blamed the city’s financial troubles for lack of enforcement of the human rights provisions of the city charter, and told Stevenson, “I would love to sit down – and I have said this to the construction trade community, as well as the African-American contracting community, and now to you and to the gay community – to sit down and come up with some other way, or some help in enforcement.”
“Anything at all that gets that department (the city’s Human Rights Commission) enforcing that law can be on the table – we are willing to move in any positive direction toward enforcement,” said Kosofsky.
Though in his October interview Kilpatrick called the lack of diversity training for the city’s police department, “Terrible,” and said that the city is in the midst of a nationwide search to replace a departed diversity expert, Kosofsky told BTL that the mayor need look no further than his own back yard to find experts in the art of training police in LGBT diversity issues.
In fact, “We used to train them,” Kosofsky said. “The National Conference for Community and Justice [which Triangle is a part of] used to have a contract with the city of Detroit for these trainings, and the city just closed up shop on it three years ago. We were training about thirty cops a month, but it stopped right about the time this administration started.”
“As a stipulation of our lawsuit against the city, which we settled in 2002, police were supposed to get additional training about anti-gay profiling in Rouge Park and other places in the city and to our knowledge, there is no one in this state that can do those trainings as well as Triangle,” Kosofsky said. “I don’t know who they brought in – but if they did, it was not a competent and recognized GLBT trainer. Because it would have been MAPP [the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project] or us, and they certainly didn’t do it.”
Kosofsky stressed that providing diversity training to the city’s police is actually a benefit for the city. “There are over 4,000 officers and we can’t do this for free,” he said. “If this is a priority they need to contact us and they need to pay for it, or else they may lose more lawsuits like the last one they lost to us.”
Kilpatrick did say he would support the hiring of openly gay police and firefighters.
During the October interview Kilpatrick said of the Boy Scouts’ continuing discrimination against gays, “I thought they had gotten over that one. Seems a little hypocritical.” He also said, “It is a private organization and they have a right to think what they want, but it is a problem when they start taking public money. So yes, I do have a problem with that.” He did not, however, make a specific promise to deny Neighborhood Opportunity Funds to the Scouts in compliance with a city regulation that all organizations receiving such funds be in compliance with all city laws, including the City Charter and the Omnibus Civil Rights Ordinance, which prohibits anti-gay discrimination.
“I have no reason to believe that anything has changed in this administration toward the gay community – except for his apology,” Kosofsky said. “We will continue our proactive efforts to move the city forward, and we hope he will join us.”