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Gay Elected Official in Macomb County Sees ‘Slow Change’

By | 2019-12-18T16:10:14-05:00 December 18th, 2019|Michigan, News|

Not Out Publicly
“I’m an elected official who happens to be gay; I’m not a gay person who happens to be an elected official,” said a city councilmember in Macomb County who was eager to share what the climate is like for LGBTQ people there, particularly for an officeholder. They did not wish to be identified.
“It’s always been assumed,” they said about being gay. “I never officially came out.” They’re out to friends and family but not publicly.
“I’d never deny it if someone were to ask,” they said.
They’re certain the other councilmembers are aware of their sexuality, but if it were widely known, they said they might receive additional backhanded comments, and perhaps they would experience bullying. But their overriding concern was simply that it could be “a distraction.”

General Prejudice
As they see it, it’s not homophobia per se that plagues Macomb County, it’s bigotry in general directed toward minorities.
“The culture in Macomb County is very — I hate to say it — prejudiced,” they said. “Not just against LGBT, but black, minority, anything. It’s just very closed-minded — not the people, the elected officials.”
They said the attitude stems from the fact that it’s largely an older, white, Catholic population with an old-fashioned mindset, resistant to the realities of shifting demographics — for example, the county’s rapidly growing African-American population. “They don’t like the change,” they said.
Their fellow city councilmembers are resistant to progressive issues in general, the official said, such as marijuana sales, despite its potential as an economic boon. With liberal policies in mind, BTL asked about the fact that Macomb County leans Democratic, even if that wasn’t the case in the last presidential election. The official was quick to set the record straight.
“A lot of Macomb County Dems are what we call DINO: Democrat in Name Only,” they said. “Everyone in Macomb County runs as a Democrat, but if you start talking to them, you’re like, ‘Holy shit, how are you a Democrat? It doesn’t make any sense!’ When it comes to any social issue, Macomb County is extremely conservative.”

Planning to Stick Around
“I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about what I’m saying,” the official added. “I think the people in Macomb County are great people. They’re loving people, they’re genuine people. I just think that because of the history of their upbringing … that they’ve never been exposed to black people or gay people … so their natural instinct is just to react like, ‘I don’t want anything to do with it.’ So don’t think I’m bashing Macomb … because I wouldn’t be [on city council] if I didn’t love the people. There’s just a lot of misinformation, a lot of old-style ways of thinking.”
They added that despite the outdated attitude of its residents and Macomb County’s lack of gay bars, “I love living where I live.”
“This is part of why I started running for office. And this is true: When I was 16, I had to go to Ferndale, ‘cause that’s where all the gay stuff happens, right? And I thought, ‘How inconvenient that I have to drive all the way to Oakland County to hang out at a cool café or hang out at a friendly-type establishment when I live in a community that has so much potential to do the exact same thing — maybe on a smaller scale — but the potential is there.'”
So overall, they’re hopeful. When it comes to the resistance of fellow councilmembers to fresh, new ideas, they said, “I’m sure it will change, and I’m sure I will outlive all of them. I really, truly enjoy what I do at a public level. I enjoy going to public events; I love hearing people’s opinions — it sucks though when these people’s opinions are oftentimes misguided. But that’s the one thing I really like about city politics is the partisan stuff doesn’t really exist. At the city level, we’re not approving gay marriage. We’re not approving school vouchers. It’s very local, what affects people directly.”

Macomb County, Moving Forward
When asked, they were aware of the Macomb County Pride initiative, and they weighed in on that, too.
“I was very surprised to see that,” they said. “I was surprised because I didn’t think anyone would have the balls to do a Pride event in Macomb County. Because I guarantee you, if you’ve ever read the comments section of the Macomb Daily, whenever they start writing about it, there’s gonna be not a single positive post.”
BTL followed up by checking online whether the event had been covered in that paper. It had, on Dec. 10. Six days later, there was one comment, a negative one. But following a similar article posted Nov. 27 on the C&G website, a handful of comments were left, equally positive and negative. The first comment about the event, to be held in Mt. Clemens, read, “Another nail in the coffin of an all ready (sic) empty city.” The reply: “ok boomer. (sic)” That reply and the likes it received perhaps signal the younger demographic in Macomb County is open to progress.
The city council member with which BTL spoke suggested things have changed since they first ran for office when they were the target of homophobic slurs in the form of anonymous comments left following a newspaper article. They also noted that when they were in high school the principal wouldn’t allow a GSA because he called it “too political.” Now, GSAs and diversity clubs are common in the area.
“Going forward, since Eastpointe was able to do their [Pride Month] resolution last year, and because we’re having a Pride in Macomb County this year, I think that might be something I will definitely bring up to put on the agenda for next year,” they said, referring to the resolution. “Because I think at least in [my city] there is some slow change happening.”

About the Author:

Ellen Shanna Knoppow
Ellen Knoppow is a writer, editor and activist.