Michigan Mayors Against Discrimination

Ellen Shanna Knoppow
By | 2018-05-09T12:41:43+00:00 May 2nd, 2018|Michigan, News|

Last April, Between The Lines ran “Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination: One Mayor’s Story”, a profile of Royal Oak Mayor Mike Fournier regarding his membership in the newly-formed coalition. He spoke proudly of his city’s inclusive human rights ordinance, among other accomplishments. For Fournier, joining the group was not just a gesture, it was a meaningful step that showed his support for all citizens of Royal Oak, for equal protections in their homes and places of work. Membership also sent a message to the public at large that his city is one of fairness, diversity and inclusion.
Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination is a bipartisan coalition of municipal leaders dedicated to securing inclusive non-discrimination protections for all, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, at all levels of government. It is a program of Freedom for All Americans, the bipartisan campaign to win comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination protections nationwide. Since its inception, membership in Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination has grown to 307 mayors in 48 states and the District of Columbia, including 17 mayors in Michigan.

Royal Oak Mayor, Mike Fournier

BTL asked Fournier to reflect on the past year, and his membership in the group. He was eager to restate its importance and had a message for all mayors in the state: “Now more than ever, we must remain vigilant to protect the rights of our citizens and confront discrimination wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head. In this divisive time in our country’s history, cities are the last line of defense for many and I encourage every Mayor in our state to join Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination. Each of us took an oath, now it’s time to take a stand.”
On that note, BTL decided to make it a series. Three reporters reached out to 16 Michigan mayors from cities large and small, from Detroit to Okemos to Traverse City. In the coming weeks and months you’ll hear from them, and their unique perspectives on what it means to be a member of Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination.
We’re launching the series with an interview with Kurt Metzger, Mayor of Pleasant Ridge. Metzger was first elected in 2013. His professional background is in data and statistics. He’s worked for the U.S. Census Bureau, Wayne State University’s Michigan Metropolitan Information Center, United Way and Data Driven Detroit.

Why did you join Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination?

Kurt Metzger, Pleasant Ridge Mayor

I have been a proponent for LGBT rights for most of my adult life and have supported local organizations such as Affirmations and the Ruth Ellis Center, among others … I have advocated for the inclusion of an LGBT category in the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, and was a vocal supporter of Gay Marriage — I have had the privilege of presiding over six gay weddings since becoming mayor. In addition to my personal feelings, I am Mayor of a city with a very large LGBT [population]. It made perfect sense, when I was notified of this effort, to sign on immediately.

How does your your city promote fairness, diversity and inclusion, and why is that important?
Pleasant Ridge’s small size, walkability and common gathering places, create a true sense of community that is shared by all residents … the City Commission voted last year to become a member community within the Welcoming America/Welcoming Michigan umbrella. We want to make sure that Pleasant Ridge is welcoming to everyone, because a community’s strength is based on everyone’s contribution – by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, etc.

As mayor, what role do you play in challenging discrimination, and making your city more inclusive?
While Pleasant Ridge is a city manager-run government, I believe the Mayor sets the tone for how we are viewed by the larger regional community. I have worked in Southeast Michigan for 40 years as a researcher/demographer/presenter and have built a reputation for “telling it like it is.” I have been invited, at one time or another, to work with all the racial justice organizations in the region and continue to be asked by corporations and leadership initiatives to talk about the importance of diversity. I live these principles and bring them to my job as mayor.

How do you ensure that your city’s objectives are consistently reflected in the actions of municipal employees?
Every year the City Commission develops a set of Goals and Objectives for our administration, and then prioritizes those objectives we feel are most important to address. Engagement with our residents and promoting a welcoming atmosphere for all is always near the top of our priority list. This attitude is reflected by all our employees and is promoted by our police.

Where does your city need to improve?
A community can never rest on its laurels, so we are looking to increase the opportunity to celebrate our diversity on all fronts.

What drew you to Pleasant Ridge? What is it like for you, personally, living in an inclusive city?
I moved to Michigan from Cincinnati in 1975 to work for the Census Bureau. I wanted to make sure we selected a community that was both walkable and close to Detroit .. and selected Ferndale. After 10 years, an apartment, a house and 2 births, we needed a larger home and chose Pleasant Ridge. My love for Pleasant Ridge was reflected in my decision to run for Mayor in 2013. I wanted to give back and to contribute to the city’s continued evolution. While every city experiences resident mobility, I continue to be energized by the wide range of individuals and families that move to PR. While they choose our city for a number of reasons, they realize that we welcome everyone and encourage everyone to participate in creating an ever more welcoming community.

Pleasant Ridge ranks #7 in the country for density of LGBTQ households, yet the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index Score for Pleasant Ridge is 56 out of 100.  How can that be? Is there an inherent bias in the scoring against very small cities?
This is [the] message I sent to HRC when we received the notice that we would be scored again in 2018 … .
“While we would like to promote your Index and trumpet Pleasant Ridge’s score, we are unable to do this because of your recalcitrance at considering adjustments to the criteria for cities less than 5,000 residents, with extremely small staffs.
As it is, we go through the motions each year and then disregard the final product. We are just fine going with the top rating that those who know Pleasant Ridge give our City for its welcoming atmosphere and its large LBGTQ resident base.”
Our city has approximately 12 total employees, including Police, and outsources all other services. As such, it makes no sense to go through the motions of creating city positions/processes just for the sake of getting points on an Index. There are a number of other areas that we have discussed with them (such as hate crimes – we have had none so we get no points) that they will not budge on.

We hear a lot about Ferndale, just to the south, as the heart of the LGBTQ community in the area. What should readers know about Pleasant Ridge as a great place to live? And can we expect Pleasant Ridge Pride anytime soon? 
While Ferndale has embraced that reputation, our LGBTQ community is strong and very active in all our city organizations and events. We, as a city, believe that collaboration across communities makes us all stronger. The PR LGBTQ community reflects that belief by working closely with representatives and organizations in Ferndale and throughout southeast Michigan. It is important that Pleasant Ridge residents support existing efforts, such as Pride Day in Ferndale and similar programing in Detroit and continue to build connections here at home.
Read more about the city of Pleasant Ridge online at cityofpleasantridge.org. Follow Kurt Metzger on Facebook at facebook.com/kurt.metzger.35.

About the Author:

Ellen Shanna Knoppow
Ellen Knoppow is a writer, editor and activist. She also volunteers for the Human Rights Campaign and Affirmations.