Michigan Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination: Interview with Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell

Ellen Shanna Knoppow
By | 2018-08-09T11:23:17+00:00 July 12th, 2018|Michigan, News|

Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination is a bipartisan coalition of municipal leaders dedicated to securing inclusive non-discrimination protections for all at every level of government. Openly gay Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell is part of the program, which is one part of Freedom for All Americans — a campaign aimed at winning comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination protections nationwide. So far, Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination includes 320 mayors in 48 states and the District of Columbia, along with 20 participating mayors in Michigan.

Since Hopewell was elected to his sixth consecutive term in Nov. 2017 after running unopposed, he became the city’s longest-serving mayor. Hopewell was a member of the Kalamazoo City Commission from 2003 to 2005 and was vice mayor from 2005 to 2007. A lifelong resident of Kalamazoo, Hopewell has a long history of involvement in the city’s business community. In March, he announced he will not seek re-election in 2019. Below is BTL’s Q&A about his involvement in Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination.

Why did you join Mayors Against LGBT Discriminations?
There are many compelling reasons to oppose discrimination against our fellow humans, whether they are members of the LGBTQ community or any other ethnic or minority group. As the mayor of a community there are also very practical reasons. Cities and towns are faced with complex challenges that require complex solutions. To be successful you need to leverage the unique strengths, skills, experience, perspectives and energy of many different people. Not bringing people to the table because they aren’t from where you’re from, don’t look like you or because of who they love is illogical and makes problems harder to solve. Each person has much to offer their communities and not allowing them to be a full part of the solution is doing a disservice to the people who I was elected to serve.
As Mayor, I strive to act in a way that is reflective of the community I want to live in, one that respects and appreciates what each person has to offer and supports them in their pursuits of happy, healthy, fulfilling lives.

What makes your city inclusive and welcoming, and why is that important?
Kalamazoo is a special place. For a mid-sized city, we are lucky to have residents from all over the globe and from all types of backgrounds. Like all communities, we are not without our challenges, but the spirit that is shown in finding solutions and helping one another is inspirational. Kalamazoo welcomes refugees and their families and shows compassion to those in need. Our universities attract students from all over the world who share their culture and experience with other students and the City. We celebrate traditions and cultural events of those that have come to Kalamazoo from abroad because it brings us together and helps us learn from each other. All of these influences make this community appreciate and celebrate diversity in a way that I am extremely proud of.

As mayor, what role do you play in challenging discrimination and making your city more inclusive?
Public officials and community leaders set an example for others to follow. I strive to use my position not to lecture about what we have to lose when we discriminate, but to demonstrate what we have to gain when we look past our superficial differences and realize that we are all on the same team. It is easy to talk about the negative impact of discrimination, but I believe that to change attitudes, actions speak louder than words.
In our recently completed strategic vision, one of our 10 goals is strength through diversity. Our staff work to include everyone in planning efforts, events and opportunities. We want everyone to feel welcomed, empowered and able to realize their potential in whatever they chose to pursue. We also launched Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo, which seeks specifically to remove financial and other barriers that often disproportionally affect minority communities.

Where does your city need to improve, and how can that happen?
Our work to improve started with the approval of our Imagine Kalamazoo Master Plan and strategic vision last year. Our community reaffirmed our work to continue building a welcoming and inclusive city. Everyone is welcome to participate in our city, but we need to reach out and let everyone know that not only can they participate (but that) we want their participation. We want to know what your ideas are, what are we doing that you love? What do we need to do better on? We need to let people know that meetings and events in our city are not just for people with connections, they are for everyone and we want everyone to know that and get involved. That is the message we must send loudly and clearly.

What is your vision for your city 10 years from now, in terms of being a welcoming place to live, work and operate a business?
Kalamazoo in continuing to move in a positive direction with regard to inclusivity. As we continue to institutionalize diversity and outreach in our government and public organizations, we will have a stronger city in 10 years and will have gotten there as a result of the efforts, ideas and energy of many different voices. Our community will continue to welcome members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants, refugees, international students and show compassion to individuals in need. Our city will be an example for others to follow, demonstrating that these values are not a threat to our security, economy, or way of life, but are the true values of our country. If some folks have forgotten that, we will do what we can every day to remind them.

You were born and raised in Kalamazoo. How has Kalamazoo changed over the years in terms of being an inclusive city?
Kalamazoo has been trending in the right direction as long as I can remember. We continue to realize that there is much more that connects us than what separates us. I believe this has been true all over the country as well. The more we interact with and work together, the more we realize that diversity is not a threat. Kalamazoo voters made a statement when they emphatically approved a non-discrimination ordinance in 2008 that grants protections in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations to the LGBTQ community. These cultural changes often don’t happen as quickly as we would like, but we are still moving forward.

You released a statement in 2015 referring to the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling as “an important step forward for our country and community.” What was it like performing marriages at such a historic moment?
I felt extremely proud of our country for taking a huge step in the right direction, allowing all members of our community, including myself, to marry who they love. The first ceremony I performed was held in Bronson Park. The couples I married were friends of mine, and many community members attended simply to witness a historic moment in our City. It was very special and long overdue.

You recently announced that you will not be seeking re-election in 2019. Do you think it will be important for future mayoral candidates in Kalamazoo to include LGBTQ rights as part of their platform?
I do. As an elected official you are representing the entire city. You are representing those who voted for you and those that did not. Each person’s rights must be protected and each person’s perspective should be considered. In addition to the clear moral reasons to support the rights of each person and oppose discrimination, by not recognizing what any group has to offer you are limiting the talent that is available. All over the world people are facing serious challenges at the local, state, regional or national level. Solutions exist, but they will be harder to find when we are limiting the most important resources: the ideas, energy and talent of our people.

For more information about Hopewell visit his site here.

About the Author:

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