Detroit’s Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has named Brad Dick as his office’s official liaison to the LGBT community. LGBT leaders said they are pleased with this development, and are glad that Detroit has joined other major U.S. cities in having a specific liaison to the LGBT community.
However, on April 29, Kilpatrick sent a letter to the Detroit City Council stating that he will neither approve nor veto a new human rights law that bans anti-transgender discrimination. City Council had passed the law April 9 by a wide margin, and it will become law without Kilpatrick’s signature.
Kilpatrick’s refusal to support the inclusive human rights law drew sharp rebukes from LGBT leaders in Detroit.
“I think it is rather disappointing that the mayor doesn’t support full equality for all members of the community,” said Hank Millbourne, president of Detroit Black Gay Pride and a member of the advisory committee to the mayor’s new LGBT liaison. “I would have liked to hear him say it affirmatively instead of just letting it pass without his signature.”
“It is incredibly disappointing that Mayor Kilpatrick refuses to endorse an expansion of civil rights protections in Detroit,” said Sean Kosofsky, director of policy for Triangle Foundation. “This city has a proud and long history of providing civil rights protections, and any message sent by Mayor Kilpatrick that undermines these protections is hurtful to Detroit and offensive to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”
Attorney Alicia Skillman, also a member of the committee to the mayor’s LGBT liaison, said that the mayor’s refusal to support the expanded law is further evidence that the mayor does not understand the LGBT community.
“That convinces me more that this liaison to the LGBT community is a publicity stunt,” said Skillman. “It sounds like his heart really isn’t in it. It’s a big step for him to have a liaison, but then you look at other cities. They have a full office with full support,” she said as she worried that the LGBT liaison position is only a small part of Dick’s overall job responsibilities. “But it really sounds like an afterthought to me. I wonder how much energy he (Kilpatrick) is really going to give to it. Looking at both of those things, it doesn’t look to me like the mayor is there yet.”
Millbourne echoed Skillman’s’ disappointment that the LGBT liaison position is under-resourced.
“It really is just a function that will be added to Brad’s current job description, just a small portion, not even a primary part of his job,” said Millbourne. “What’s realistic given that it’s just a minor function of someone’s job?”
Kilpatrick wrote in his letter dated April 23 that the expanded law is unnecessary, arguing that transgender people are already protected under the city’s current civil rights law that protects people on the basis of sexual orientation.
“The mayor is mistaken in believing that a prohibition on sexual orientation discrimination will protect transgender people from discrimination,” said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan LGBT Rights Project. “Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing and legal precedent has made it clear that transgender people do not have a cause of action under the category of sexual orientation. Most other major cities, including the mayors of these cities, have recognized the need to add this language to their human rights ordinances.”