Can a Queer, Non-Muslim Candidate Bridge the Divide Within Hamtramck’s All-Muslim City Council?

Lynn Blasey will certainly try — one cup of tea at a time

In 2021, two years before the all-Muslim city council voted unanimously to ban Pride flags from government property in Hamtramck, Lynn Blasey was on hand to help raise a Pride flag legally in a park across from city hall. Despite the heated debate, it was a proud moment for the city council candidate. At the time, Blasey told Pride Source, it felt good in her soul to participate in an act that means so much to the LGBTQ+ community.

Now, with the recent ban, Blasey is frustrated that the meaning of the Pride flag has been misconstrued.

“The rhetoric I hear around this discussion is often based on, ‘Someone's different than me,’” Blasey said. “‘They're going to try to convert me to be like them, and I'm uncomfortable with that. So I'm going to act out.’

“The Pride flag, to me, represents community and hope,” said Blasey, who has a degree in Middle Eastern history and studied at the American University in Cairo. “It represents, of course, the historic struggle that queer folks have gone through to even have a voice and to exist in the public sphere.” She called it a beacon to people of all ages who are struggling with their identity and trying to figure out where they fit in the world.

Blasey’s platform isn’t built on Pride flags alone. Yet flags surely figure into her story. Part of the reason she decided to be more open about her sexuality is that some of the flags flying at her own home were vandalized. Blasey is ace, or asexual, and her ace and Philadelphia Pride flags have been torn more than once. With American and Palestinian flags flying at her home as well, Blasey was attacked on social media for flying those four flags together. She recognizes the reaction as fear and misunderstanding that the flags could somehow constitute an oxymoron.

“My response to that person was that the flags flying in front of my home represent the identities of those people living in my home,” Blasey said. “And none of those identities are mutually exclusive. You can be those identities at once, and you can have relationships with people that have complex identities.” At the same time, Blasey says, “My queer identity is a very small part of who I am.”

Blasey believes something is missing from the flag debate. “There's so much space for nuance in this discussion — and that's not sexy, that doesn't get headlines,” she said. “And so this divisive dialogue just gets perpetuated over and over again.”

As a candidate in a very diverse city, Blasey stands out for her cultural competency. Of about 28,000 Hamtramck residents, two-thirds are Muslims of Yemeni or Bengali origin, according to the Arab American News. “Everything I do is really rooted in community,” Blasey said. After college, Blasey was an educator at the Arab American Museum where she gave tours and worked offsite. Today, Blasey works at the College for Creative Studies in the Community Arts Partnerships department.

When Blasey’s not at work, “I'm out in the neighborhoods building relationships with people, usually addressing whatever their needs are,” she said. “So I'm very in touch with the pulse of Hamtramck.”

Blasey has a diverse inner circle in Hamtramck, including progressive Muslims, but they declined to be interviewed because they feel burned out on “the flag issue.”

In a text exchange Blasey had with one of them, the friend stressed that many LGBTQ+ Muslims have no “home.” They don’t feel religious people are always welcome in LGBTQ+ spaces, especially as Muslims, since the flag ban has been a hot topic. Further, queer Muslims are not a monolith: There are traditional Muslims who are queer and choose abstinence. And the community should accept that as valid.

However, “Muslims need to learn how to not oppress if they won't outright support,” Blasey’s friend said in the exchange. “There is a balance between what some people ask for and what is minimally necessary. We don't need Muslims to fly Pride flags; we need Muslims to not tear down Pride flags."

To an outsider, Hamtramck might not appear queer-friendly, but Blasey described it as a mixed bag. “That's a tough one,” she said. “Historically, Hamtramck has been very queer-friendly. We have a large queer population. We have places to hang out that are safe for our queer residents to live authentically.” Yet she said recently it’s been challenging because of a divide between safe spaces and the public. For example, the theater Planet Ant is a welcoming space but, outside, their Pride flag has been vandalized.

A resident since 2008, Blasey has connections to Hamtramck that run deep. She has received numerous resident awards for community service such as her work for the Hamtramck Arts and Culture Commission, Hamtramck Community Initiatives and Hamtramck Mutual Aid, among others. Blasey is also an active board member of API Vote Michigan.

Last year, Blasey initiated monthly teas where residents can gather outdoors to get to know one another. “I just show up with all the supplies: hot water and tea bags and beautiful cups,” she said. “Tea is a very universal way for people to connect.” 

As a volunteer, the impact of Blasey’s contributions to Hamtramck cannot be overstated. She was instrumental in launching a disaster relief program after a flood during the pandemic left some residents with sewage in their basements.

“Around November of 2021, I sat down with a couple of community leaders and a representative from FEMA,” Blasey said. “And we wrote out the bylaws and a plan for what is called a FEMA Long Term Recovery Group to set up this organization to make sure that those residents didn't get forgotten.” Currently, volunteers shovel out the basement “goop” so construction crews can rebuild; funding is available to replace appliances and other necessities.

As an extension of her service to the community, Blasey has ambitious plans if elected. She’d like to take a deep dive into Hamtramck’s ordinances, something she feels suited for, with strengths in setting up and evaluating systems. She called the way the ordinances have been edited over the years “a hodgepodge.”

“I would like to revisit our ordinances thoughtfully,” Blasey said, “considering what is still relevant, eliminating redundancies, clarifying language — specifically with the knowledge that [for] a large portion of our Hamtramck residents, English is not their first language.” It can be confusing for native English speakers too, she noted.

Blasey is also concerned that decisions made by council are not necessarily thoughtfully considered. She has seen the council approve things just for their persuasive presentation, and that can breed mistrust. But before trust can be established, residents’ basic needs must be met.

If elected, Blasey will be the lone non-Muslim councilmember. And the only woman. She said she wouldn’t be running if she weren’t up to the challenge.

“There are a lot of places where I would say we have more in common and we have more parallel or similar goals than we do have differences,” Blasey said. “I'm willing to have those difficult conversations and listen and see what the concerns of council are, what the concerns of the public are."

“We're not going to agree on everything,” she continued. “But if we can at least listen to each other, I think that is an important step in the right direction. And I'm absolutely willing to be the dissenting vote to make sure that the voices of residents are represented, even if it's not in line with what the majority wants.”

More information is available at Lynn Blasey's campaign site. Vote now through Election Day, Tues. Nov. 7.


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