In what may be a first for Macomb County, the city of Eastpointe adopted a Pride Month resolution this June. Cardi DeMonaco recalled how he responded to fellow city councilmember Ron LaForest's suggestion that they introduce it.
"'Hey, that's a great idea,'" DeMonaco said. "Honestly, I had just never thought of it before, and I'm like, 'Yeah, let's do that. I'd like to support the LGBT community.' And so then I discussed it with one other councilperson, councilperson Klinefelt, who isn't currently on the council, and we decided to bring it up. He had come up with the resolution."
Before the vote, a number of people spoke out in favor of the resolution, with just a few opposed. It subsequently was voted on and adopted.
A Narrow Victory
However, the Pride Month resolution received only three votes in favor from the five-member council in the city of 32,000 residents located at the southernmost edge of Macomb County and bordering Detroit. One "No" vote came from then-councilmember and current mayor Monique Owens and one abstention from then-Mayor Suzanne Pixley. Both Pixley and Owens prefaced their disapproval of the resolution with examples of how accepting they are of LGBTQ people. A video recording of the comments that preceded the vote was made available to Between The Lines.
"When this was put on the agenda, I didn't sleep for a couple days," Owens said. "Because I didn't know that we did not accept the LGBTQ community. Because as a family town, we've always accepted everybody. I didn't know we had to make a distinction on what that is."
Owens pointed out that she had hugged an individual — present at the meeting — who was bisexual before that fact was known to her, and, aware of their sexuality now, she would still hug them. However, Owens said, she was opposed to treating anyone
differently. As she campaigned for mayor, Owens remarked that a few people asked whether she would represent black people or white people in Eastpointe, whose population is around 46 percent black or African-American. Owens, who is the first African-American elected mayor in that city, asserted that she represents the human race. She said she was opposed to making distinctions between people, and that God loves everybody. Thus she would be voting "No."
Pixley's explanation was similar. She began by stating that she previously lived in an LGBTQ community, and "I cherish the people I've met along the way." She said after learning several people at the meeting are LGBTQ, "I will never treat you differently, now that I know it. My obligation as mayor is to treat everybody the same. I don't need any kind of resolution to make me give respect to anybody over and above what I've always done."
With that, Pixley said she would abstain from voting. To further her point, Pixley then added that in the past, she worked on political campaigns "with huge numbers of LGBT people," which she followed with a mention of her time as a nurse working on research to develop AIDS treatment. Pixley's final comment: "I don't need somebody telling me I need to sign a piece of paper telling me how to behave in an appropriate way."
What's at Stake?
It should be noted that a resolution is simply an official expression of the opinion or will of a legislative body. It is nonbinding; it does not mandate special treatment of, or behavior toward, a group of people. Resolutions are distinct from ordinances or laws. A Pride Month resolution affirms that everyone should be treated equally, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. An inclusive non-discrimination ordinance is a law that ensures the civil rights of LGBTQ and other protected classes of people. That is not what was being voted upon at the meeting.
The negativity from two of five councilmembers notwithstanding, DeMonaco said the meeting and overall mood in Eastpointe toward LGBTQ people was and is largely one of acceptance. "There were a ton of people in Eastpointe from the LGBT community, many of whom I've never met before [who] came to the meeting and spoke … and I felt that overshadowed any of the comments of the city councilmembers that didn't vote in favor of the resolution," DeMonaco said. "I feel like 99 percent of the time in Eastpointe even if we don't agree, we all just listen to each other and are respectful to each other."
Welcome to Eastpointe
"I just want everybody to know Eastpointe welcomes everybody coming to Eastpointe," DeMonaco said. "We don't discriminate. I want to welcome the LGBT community, African-Americans, anyone that's not Christian." He then added that a number of years ago, there was discussion about removing the Christian cross from Eastpointe's city logo. However, as happens sometimes with such city affairs, the city ran out of money to continue debating the issue.
DeMonaco said that things like Pride flags and resolutions may be symbolic, but they make an important statement.
"I would completely agree we're not changing any law or anything," he said. "[But] if it wasn't important, or say if it didn't matter, people wouldn't have voted against it first of all, and of course we probably wouldn't be having this conversation if people were accepting LGBT folks like everyone else. I feel the same way at the federal level, or the state level: If something goes in a positive direction for a certain community, I'm very excited about it, because I know there are definitely things going on that are discriminatory. Just four years ago, the LGBT community couldn't marry. It's crazy to me."
As for Macomb County Pride, DeMonaco said he knows Phil Gilchrist, the executive director of the Anton Art Center in Mt. Clemens who's spearheading the effort, and that he thinks the Pride initiative is a great idea.
"I think it'll be a great event that they're throwing on New Year's Eve," he said of the drag show at the Emerald Theatre to raise funds for the parade and resource fair. "My wife and I will be attending."