The Pride Flag is flying high over Zussman Park across from the Hamtramck City Hall in honor of LGBTQ+ Pride Month. But the multi-colored flag barely made it up the pole. There was intense debate on the issue among members of the Hamtramck City Council, including a heated meeting June 8.
The city's Arts and Cultural Commission first proposed flying the flag. Lynn Blasey, a member of the commission who is currently running for city council, explained why the group made the proposal. "It's important for us to take time to listen to and understand diverse perspectives while also helping people understand why Pride is so important," she said.
Blasey said it's important to take the time to find common ground — "this time between the struggles of the LGBTQ community and other actively persecuted or marginalized minority communities." By framing those discussions within "actionable items and policy," she said, "we have a better opportunity to come to mutual understanding that allows us to be truly inclusive."
The flag-raising issue was originally on the consent agenda for the council meeting, "meaning it doesn't even get discussed," Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski explained to Pride Source. "But one of the council members, who is running for mayor, pulled it from the consent agenda so it had to be voted on and, of course, he voted against it."
That mayoral candidate and current city councilman is Saad Almasmari, instead insisting that only the American flag should be flown in front of the Hamtramck City Hall, not one representing "someone's lifestyle."
Almasmari, who did not respond to requests for comments for this article, was joined by city council members Mohammed Alsomiri and Mohammed Hassan in voting against flying the Pride Flag.
Meanwhile, three council members — Carrie Beth Lasley, Fadel Al-Marsoumi and Nayeem Choudhury — voted in favor. Majewski's tie-breaking vote cleared the way.
It's worth noting that this is an election year in Hamtramck. In addition to Almasmari, fellow mayoral candidate Amer Ghalib voiced his objection to raising the flag during the discussion portion of the council meeting. Another mayoral candidate, Asm "Kamal" Rahman, is no stranger to anti-LGBTQ sentiments. Rahman was vehemently outspoken about a proposed human rights ordinance the city considered in 2008.
"The terms sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression — those are the words we are opposing because, sexual orientation, the meaning is limitless," he said at the time. "Sexual orientation does not limit … orientation toward whom? It could be an animal. It could be children. Not just man-to-man, but man-to-animal…I know it sounds crude, but this is the fact."
Pride Source asked Rahman's campaign if he wished to apologize for his previous remarks. While not specifically doing so, Rahman did provide Pride Source with a statement.
"In 2008, I opposed a poorly written ordinance that has been characterized by some as a fairness ordinance, but that I believe would have failed to meet that goal, lacked public education and thus, was successful in further dividing the community," Rahman said in the statement.
"Some of the comments I made at that time might now be taken out of context, however they do not reflect my feelings then or now. During that time and since, I have worked to educate myself and others about all civil rights issues and will continue this behavior in the future."
"I will continue to support any action that affirms the dignity of and welcomes any and all residents to Hamtramck, regardless of who their parents are, how they pray or whom they love," Rahman concludes.
As for her decision to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of raising the flag, Majewski, who is running for a fifth term as mayor, said it was a no-brainer.
"I'm gonna do what I know is right," Majewski told Pride Source. "I'm not concerned about kind of counting or hedging my bets about reelection on an issue that is a human rights issue."
"Some people saw this as an opportunity, I think, on the other side, to vote against to score political points," Majewski continued. "I really applaud everyone who voted for it. Two of those council members are Muslim and they're not up for reelection and I don't know if they caught any flack from their communities. But I really applaud them for taking the stand that they did and I was happy to break the tie."
The city raised the flag in a special ceremony June 19.
"Many of the arguments against flying the flag were uninformed about flag policy and protocol or even what flags we currently fly in front of city hall, which indicates that we need to have a lot more discussion around these issues as a community," Blasey said.
"As someone that helped physically raise the flag, it felt really good in my soul to participate in that act that means so much to the LGBT community."