BY ELLEN SHANNA KNOPPOW
Detroit, Grand Rapids, Royal Oak, Pleasant Ridge, Okemos, Highland Park, Traverse City, Ypsilanti, Kalamazoo, Bay City, Ann Arbor, Ferndale, Delta Charter Township, East Lansing, Southfield, Sterling Heights. If you live in one of those Michigan cities, congratulations. Your mayor is a member of Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination.
Launched in January of this year, Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination is described as a bipartisan coalition of municipal leaders dedicated to securing inclusive non-discrimination protections for all, including LGBT individuals, at all levels of government. It is a program of Freedom for All Americans. Since its inception, membership has grown from 175 to 235 mayors in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Joining the group is one step that city leaders can take to support their citizens and promote equal protections in their homes and places of work, and showcase to the public at large that their city is one of fairness, diversity and inclusion.
When he learned of the coalition, Royal Oak Mayor Mike Fournier was eager to sign on. As City Commissioner, and longtime ally, he championed the passage of the city’s LGBT-inclusive human rights ordinance in 2013. He told the Royal Oak Review at the time, “I believe in embracing the values of love, tolerance and the acceptance of others as paramount to peace and advancing the human condition. As a father, it pains me to think the possibility of my daughters or my son being denied justice or equality through no fault of their own simply because of who they are.”
When I spoke with Fournier recently, he echoed that sentiment, and laid out how his vision of Royal Oak aligns with the values of the coalition: “When we look at it in terms of internalizing it to Royal Oak, certainly we’ve done a couple of the measures that promote the initiative of the group, one in particular, the human rights ordinance. I think there are a couple other things…making sure that the culture that we have, that everything that we do–our department heads, our employees, from the police department through DPS, to greeting people at the door–understand what the message is from the commission. We want to be a welcoming city–we are a welcoming city, we want to be a tolerant city–we are a tolerant city. We’re just reinforcing those things in every aspect…standing up with other mayors, [in] support of this.”
As “the face of the city,” Fournier says, “I think I have maybe a bigger pulpit…to help resolve concerns but also capitalize on opportunities that that really underscore our commitment to LGBT rights in the community.” He also commented that a part of the call to action for Michigan mayors is that the state has yet to “step up–” a reference to our failure to update the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
As Fournier explained above, he’s set in motion measures for the city that fulfill two of the stated initiatives of the coalition: championing municipal-level protections for LGBT people (i.e. the non-discrimination ordinance) and supporting local law enforcement on LGBT-inclusive trainings (i.e. all city employees trained on the city’s inclusive values). While a third initiative, prohibiting non-essential travel to states with anti-LGBT laws, may not seem applicable to a medium-size Midwestern suburb, Fournier was quick to share an anecdote: While on a recent family road trip, he had to explain to their three young children that lunch would be delayed; there would be no stop for food or gas in North Carolina. “That’s a small opportunity a singular mayor on vacation was able to capitalize on,” he told me, in all seriousness. (I think.)
Fournier hopes his membership in the coalition will encourage others to follow suit, even if it’s just to “put their name on it. It’s a step in the right direction,” while allowing that “not all communities have the same struggles, certainly some areas of the country, some areas of the state, even some areas of this region have different issues and different motivators that they have to address related to LGBT rights.”
Looking toward the future, Fournier sees the potential of Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination and his role as a member. “What I foresee is when something comes up in the future, that I can…look to the other communities in Michigan that have also done the same things. Maybe tap other mayors, especially in the state–like size, like issues–and use that as an immediate resource. It’s a great avenue for this organization to reach out to me, and to reach out to these other communities in Michigan if they have something they think is working really well, [then] we can start taking action. Especially for the mayors that aren’t LGBT…having this be an independent mayor’s networking point, I think we can be more agile and take quicker, more informed action and use each other’s resources, as opposed to…trying to figure it out on our own.
“We have to go on a journey of looking, and uncovering, and sweeping where we have to sweep, and polishing where we have to polish, and moving big rocks when we have to move big rocks. And certainly having a network of support to help channel that information to me, and making me aware…of what some of the new opportunities are, what some the new concerns are, I think is effective. We are stronger together.”
A final note: While it may sound impressive that 16 Michigan mayors are members of the coalition, consider that there are hundreds of city mayors in the state, and that most of the members thus far are in the metro Detroit area. We have a long way to go. Contact your favorite mayor and encourage her to join.