As BTL continues the Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination series, we hear from Amanda Edmonds, Ypsilanti’s openly lesbian mayor who ran unopposed in 2014 after winning her primary in a landslide. Edmonds announced in a statement last month – which can be read online – that she will not be seeking re-election, but BTL has decided to include Edmonds’s interview. She is still the mayor, and proud of her city’s accomplishments. While Edmonds is not running for re-election, the interview captures the tone she set while mayor of Ypsilanti. We can only hope the next mayor follows her lead.
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.
“Mayor Amanda Edmonds is more than happy to marry couples of any genders within Washtenaw County, pending her availability, which varies.” – City of Ypsilanti website
Why did you join Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination?
As an out LGBTQ mayor I understand first-hand the importance of feeling safe, welcome, and included in a community. Unfortunately, there are many communities where people don’t feel safe, or they don’t know where they stand because their elected officials and community leaders have been silent. While federal or state laws (or lack there of) are dictating discrimination in our lives, we still live and experience our life daily in our localities, where it is crucial that we do everything we can to share our values to make our communities safe.
How does your city promote fairness, diversity and inclusion, and why is that important?
The City of Ypsilanti is proud to have one of the oldest and most progressive non-discrimination ordinances in the state, that includes gender and sexual orientation, immigration status, and many other protected classes. This is particularly important in Michigan, where LGBTQ people have no protection from discrimination under state law. We’ve continued to update this ordinance as we recognize new groups of people who are vulnerable and need to explicitly be protected, as we did last year when we added immigration status. We went another step in that realm, too, and solidified our practice and values into policy as we adopted a “Don’t Ask” ordinance that clarified that for most interactions with our city staff (including public safety personnel), one’s immigration status is not relevant and will not be brought up.
As mayor, what role do you play in challenging discrimination, and making your city more inclusive?
As a mayor, I serve as an ambassador both within the community and outside of it. Being vocal matters. Last year we raised the Trans pride flag in front of our police station for Transgender Day of Visibility, and succeeded in having our Ypsilanti Community Schools do the same in front of 11 school buildings. We held flag raising ceremonies at both the police station and the school district admin office. When our citizens and students see that kind of symbol, it validates their existence and rights settings where they may be otherwise questions. I am putting to council a resolution to raise the flag again on March 31.
How do you ensure that your city’s objectives are consistently reflected in the actions of municipal employees?
Our Non-Discrimination Ordinance is law, and any complaints against employees of the city– as well as anyone in the community who may have violated it by discriminating in public accommodations, housing, or employment– are taken as a breach of law.
Where does your city need to improve?
I have admired that Detroit Police Department has an LGBTQ-focused officer who works to liaison with the LGBTQ community. This position recognizes the additional safety concerns that LGBTQ persons face as victims of crimes and hesitancy to come forward. Our police department is very small and so having an officer focused on that is not appropriate in terms of scale, but I would love further resources to look into whether there are any ways our department can further gain trust of LGBTQ persons. I don’t have any knowledge of distrust issues, but the opportunity to be more proactive in this area would be amazing. In general, our community, our council, and our police chief deeply value community policing– which that Detroit officer is a great example of– but are so hindered by the lack of appropriate state funding for municipalities that there is little time to do more than minimal shift coverage and responding to emergency calls.
We’d love for Ypsi to be included in HRC or another orgs’ lists of LGBTQ friendly communities, because we most definitely are. Unfortunately, we are either too small to be considered, or just don’t have the resources to pull together the applications needed. So, we rely on the grassroots word of mouth that we are a welcoming place.
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?
I want to see an Ypsilanti where people from many backgrounds can afford to live, and thrive. As we develop economically in the ways that we must in order to provide quality services to our residents, we have to figure out how to not follow the too-common trajectory of gentrification and inadvertently squeezing people out. There is no silver bullet to doing so, but we must work at it every day.
What drew you to Ypsilanti? What is it like for you, personally, living in an inclusive city?
I moved to Michigan in the mid-90s and to Ypsilanti in 2002, after having been drawn here several years before that. I loved its diversity, its deep community pride, and its residents’ willingness to step up and make the change they want to see, despite often difficult (particularly municipal) financial conditions. I love that my own working class neighborhood of little bungalows includes people from many racial and ethnic backgrounds and ages, as well as many LGBTQ families. I love that I can walk down the street in Ypsi with my wife and not worry about my safety.
Tell us about Ypsi Pride.
Ypsilanti had a long-time annual clean up day called Ypsi PRIDE, renamed as of last year as Ypsi Proud. That made way for an amazing first ever Ypsi Pride event, celebrating the LGBTQ communities during one of our First Fridays Ypsi celebrations. This first Ypsi Pride was organized by volunteers and was an overwhelming success. What was so beautiful about it is that it was truly inclusive– there were all ages and all cultural backgrounds present, including both LGBTQ folks and allies. It was actually the ‘place to be’ that Friday evening– no matter your identity. There were family-friendly drag shows, music, art, dancing, pedicabs, and much more. I can’t wait for the second annual this year.
There’s an amazing photo of you officiating at a wedding in June of 2015 after marriage equality was extended to same-sex couples. What is it like performing these weddings, and why is Ypsi a great place to be married?
That was one of the most memorable days of my life. I performed three weddings that day, and am friends with two of the couples now. The energy of that crowd was unlike any I’ve ever experienced, and at that point I had not performed many weddings yet as mayor, and had forgotten to bring my ceremony script. So, I winged it, which was a bit nerve racking but also fun. I’m now up to 104 weddings– including many for LGBTQ couples– and can perform it in my sleep. For folks who want a civil ceremony, Ypsi is a great place — not only because I can be an officiant (per MI marriage law mayors can perform weddings in the county in which they serve), but because in addition to city hall we have so many cool indoor and outdoor venues, local restaurants, and friendly folks ready to welcome people for their nuptials. (FYI, my dream this year before the end of my first term is to perform a wedding while moving through Ypsi aboard Amtrak!)