By Sharon Gittleman
FERNDALE – There were no angry speeches at the lectern last week when one particular item came to a vote before the Ferndale City Council. The measure, which appeared on the Council’s “consent agenda,” – where mundane matters of no special controversy are placed – passed by a unanimous vote of all Council members present.
The audience was composed of the ordinary number of people for an average Council meeting. No one in the crowd rose to oppose the resolution.
The measure in question applauded the “cultural, civic and economic contributions” of the LGBT community to the city by recognizing June as “Gay Pride Month.”
Before the meeting Council members appeared surprised when asked if they planned to vote for the measure.
“Why not?” asked Mayor Robert Porter. “Why wouldn’t you? Do we not celebrate other groups and their history?”
Porter’s sentiment was seconded by Councilmember Mike Lennon.
“Everybody deserves their day in the sun,” he said.
Councilmember Helen Weber said she thought the resolution expressed the respect people have for Ferndale’s diversity.
“It’s the best approach to living today,” she said.
Governor Granholm would seem to agree. In a resolution received by BTL on May 27, the Governor proclaimed June 2005 GLBT Pride Month.
“Members of the GLBT community have made important and lasting contributions to the State of Michigan in every field of endeavor,” said the Governor’s proclamation. “GLBT Pride Month is traditionally observed in June as a way to recognize progress made in creating a society more inclusive and accepting of all citizens.”
At the Ferndale council meeting onlooker Harold Kirkwood from Ferndale compared the city’s resolution to the logo of his soccer team. The logo displays flags from 11 different countries, representing the origins of the original team members – and a statement about diversity.
“It added to the richness of the team,” he said.
Council Member Craig Covey said this is the fifth year the city has acknowledged June as Gay Pride Month.
“I wanted to have the city of Ferndale recognize that time for our community,” he said.
The city will send the resolution to neighboring towns and Michigan’s senators, congressmen and other elected figures.
In the last three years there has been no negative feedback from residents after the Council passed similar resolutions, Covey said.
“I think it’s important that at least some areas of our country stand up and say, ‘at least this is a safe affirming place’ – the little city of Ferndale,” he said.
Covey said for the past ten years, Ferndale has been considered the heart of the gay community.
Gay people in other cities can help their towns achieve Ferndale’s welcoming atmosphere by getting involved in their communities’ local politics, he said.
“I encourage people to follow the model we created in Ferndale,” he said. “You join committees and commissions and get people involved and come out one at a time.”
“Ferndale is proof positive that you can treat supporting gay people as if it’s no big deal,” said Triangle Foundation’s Director of Policy Sean Kosofsky. “I think Michigan, like the country, is moving dramatically toward accepting gay people.”
In the next 15-20 years Kosofsky sees the LGBT community gaining full equal rights in all spheres of life, including marriage, the military, parenting and adoption.
“When I came out in 1994 in high school there were less than a dozen Gay Straight alliances in the whole country. Now there are nearly 3,000,” he said. “Our community is moving with lightning speed.”
Kosofsky attributes much of this change to the Internet and AIDS. He said the battle against AIDS forced the gay community to step out of the closet.
“The Internet has allowed gay people to meet each other and find information while still being anonymous,” he said.
With much of the country aging, family rights and health care will be the next big issues, Kosofsky said.
“Long term care facilities aren’t quite ready for us yet,” he said.
Covey said he has one big hope for the future.
“That we survive this conservative onslaught and we engineer a backlash against intolerance and these reactionary times,” he said.