While Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has declared, “Michigan is standing up for the LGBTQ+ community,” several Michigan communities are sending the opposite message.
In the 72-hour period after Whitmer signed an executive order establishing Michigan’s LGBTQ+ Commission, with a goal toward “eradicating and preventing discrimination” of the LGBTQ+ community, two elected bodies in Livingston County moved to restrict efforts at promoting Pride events and messages, while a third in Wayne County approved an outright ban on particular flags, including that for LGBTQ+ Pride, from being displayed on city properties.
On Monday, June 12, the Livingston County Board of Commissioners voted to implement a restrictive policy prompted by promotion of LGBTQ+ events, while 10 miles to the east, the Hartland Consolidated Schools Board of Education passed a similar policy revision to restrict the content of classroom displays.
While neither proposal explicitly mentions LGBTQ+ content, they were both put forward in reaction to such efforts and have added to a coordinated pushback by communities during Pride Month.
The all-Republican Livingston County Board of Commissioners voted 8-1 to adopt a resolution that prohibits any committee appointed by the Board from promoting events or activities that are “not clearly within the scope of the mission of the appointed entity,” effectively granting the board sole authority to decide what can and cannot be advertised.
Sponsored by Commissioner Wes Nakagiri, the resolution was brought forth in response to advertisements in the summer newsletter for the Human Services Collaborative Body (HSCB) for a June 4 Pride Rally in Brighton and a June 10 Pride March in Howell, both sponsored by the Livingston Diversity Council and the Pride Alliance of Livingston.
Nakagiri insisted his resolution was not an act of discrimination, but rather a change in policy as he believed the ads did not serve to coordinate health and human services, and were therefore beyond the scope of the HSCB’s mission.
Most of the members of the public present at the meeting saw it differently.
Yvonne Mackle of Hartland called the resolution a “petty abuse of power,” while Connie Conklin, the director of Livingston County’s Community Mental Health and a member of the HSCB, said she was disappointed in the board’s decision, explaining that as a resident of this county, she is “in a position to advocate that this is a great place to work and live, but resolutions like this make it harder to recruit and maintain staff.”
In response, Nakagiri said that the Livingston Diversity Council and Pride Alliance of Livingston are “private entities,” and that “if they want to promote their events, they are welcome to. But they are not welcome to do so under the banner of Livingston County.”
“I didn’t think it would be appropriate for the county to promote Pride events,” he continued, “just like I wouldn’t be supportive of the county promoting NRA events, or the county promoting or supporting the Proud Boys’ events.”
That comparison to a neo-fascist group that promotes political violence and is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center only served to stoke further anger from residents, including Anna Wysocki of Howell, who noted that the LGBTQ+ community is “a historically and currently oppressed group, and the Proud Boys is an outwardly oppressive group.”
Livingston County Diversity Council Executive Director Nicole Mathews-Creech said they were “disheartened” by the resolution, which the council sees as an effort to discriminate against a specific group that is a part of the community.
“The mission of the HSCB as stated on the HSCB page of the Livingston County website is 'ensuring a system of support for members of our community,'” she said. “The events in question are hosted to provide support for members of our community and are thus in line with the mission of the HSCB.”
Queer Families Livingston, a 501c3 whose mission is to support members of the LGBTQIA+ community in Livingston County, issued a statement after the vote saying they were “deeply concerned” about policies that appear to be discriminatory and an attempt to erase the progress in Livingston County.
“We want the queer community to know that you are seen, you are heard, and you are loved,” read the statement. “Be heartened that the recent Pride celebrations across the county have proved that Livingston County is a welcoming place for LGBTQIA+ people, and the actions of a very small but loud group will not change the reality we know through these great events.”
Meanwhile in Hartland, the school board on the very same night passed a similar policy with the aim to restrict free expression for and by the LGBTQ+ community.
Put forward by Trustee Glenn Gogoleski, the policy update states that any media including signs, posters, stickers and flags (other than the American and Michigan flags), “depicting any social and/or political causes unrelated to the daily curriculum shall not be allowed in schools and classrooms unless the media/items are for the classroom discussion as part of the curriculum for that day and subject.”
Many parents in the district are convinced the proposal is a direct attack on "safe space" stickers and other similar materials that are present in some Hartland classrooms letting students in marginalized groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community, know that they are welcome and safe in that environment.
As such there was lengthy comment at the board meeting on the issue, although in the end it narrowly passed 4-3.
The swing vote came from Treasurer Meghan Glabach, who said her decision was based on a proposed student-designed safe space sticker that represents all students, including those that are in the most vulnerable groups.
“I recommended moving forward with the student-designed sticker,” she said. “Every student should feel safe and welcomed. We need to hold ourselves, our students and our families accountable to this as well.”
However, that rationale didn’t sit well with Nate Dorough, a parent in the Hartland district.
“To me, it smacks of an ‘All Lives Matter’ sort of scenario, where we’re not going to say that it’s OK to be gay, we’re not going to use rainbows, but we’re going to say that everybody deserves respect,” he said. “Which, to be clear, everybody does deserve respect, but also sometimes for marginalized communities, you have to say, ‘Black Lives Matter’, you have to say, ‘Gay people are welcome here,' you have to say, ‘Trans rights are important.’ You have to be able to say these things individually to acknowledge the overarching thing that, yes, all people deserve respect.”
Julie Ohashi with the advocacy group Stand Against Extremism LivCo said the decision could also very well result in the involvement of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and potentially even litigation.
She pointed to a letter the ACLU recently sent to the Fenton Public School District to support the School Board’s decision there to continue to permit school staff to wear Equality Badges in support of LGBTQ+ students.
In that letter, Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU’s LGBTQ+ Project, noted that “the prohibition against sex discrimination under Title IX and the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution protects students from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, transgender status or gender non-conformity.”
Kaplan further said that amendments to the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act were signed into law in March by Gov. Whitmer providing “explicit protections against discrimination in education on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.”
Kaplan told Pride Source that having a policy that prohibits all other flags except the school flag, state flag and American flag is probably legal, although the issue isn’t that cut and dry.
“The issue of symbols and displays that can only be related to daily curriculum is something that we would have to look at more closely to see what is actually considered 'daily curriculum,'" he said.
The pushback on Pride, however, was not confined to mid-Michigan as the Hamtramck City Council on Tuesday, June 13 unanimously voted to ban certain flags, including that for LGBTQ+ Pride, from being displayed on city property.
The resolution states that because “the City does not want to open the door for radical or racist groups to ask for their flags to be flown,” no flags can be flown on city property by “religious, ethnic, racial, political, or sexual orientation group(s).”
During the meeting, members of the public spoke out against the resolution, with one person saying, “For Hamtramck to attempt to equate the LGBTQ Pride flag with hate symbols, when it is a symbol of progress and love, is now a local attack on our community.”
Council members, however, framed their argument as a religious freedom issue.
“We only want to respect the religious rights of our citizens,” said City Councilman Nayeem Choudhury. "Why do you have to have a flag flown on this city property to be represented? You are already represented. We already know who you are and we don't have any hate or any discriminations against that.”
“You are welcome here,” he added. “But we have to respect the people around here; schools, mosques, churches.”
As a result of the vote, only the U.S. flag, the flag of the State of Michigan, the City of Hamtramck Flag, the POW/MIA flag and the “nations' flags that represent the international character of our City shall be flown.”