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As BTL continues the Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination series, we hear from Southfield Mayor Kenson Siver who pledged his oath as the first openly-gay mayor in the city of Southfield on Nov. 16, 2015. Despite running a campaign distracted and disrupted by people writing “fag,” “rapist,” “sodomite,” and “racist” on his campaign signs, Siver said at the time, “it is a testament to the people of this city that they saw through the hatred, bigotry, homophobia and dirty tricks and elected their first gay mayor.” In his early 70’s, Siver has lived in Southfield for 50 years and is the retired deputy superintendent of the Southfield schools. He’s served on the Southfield City Council for 15 years, and for two years as its president. He is president of the Southfield Non-Profit Housing Board, working to secure safe, affordable housing for lower-income seniors in Southfield.
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.
Why did you join Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination?
Because it is the right thing to do. I strongly support equality and equal opportunity for all people. As a teenager and young gay man I felt the sting of prejudice many times. I would never want to inflict that on someone else.
How does your city promote fairness, diversity and inclusion, and why is that important?
Southfield has a non-discrimination ordinance that includes LGBT protections in housing and employment. Southfield is home to Michigan’s first and largest Martin Luther King, Jr. Peacewalk. For the past 33 years the Southfield MLK Task Force has promoted peace, non-violence and brotherhood in our city. We are keeping Dr. King’s “dream” alive. Last Spring Southfield passed a “Welcoming City” resolution, going on record that we open our arms to all who want to live, work or recreate here. We passed this resolution before Charlottesville because of the rise in hate speech we had seen in 2016 and 2017.
As mayor, what role do you play in challenging discrimination, and making your city more inclusive?
I am happy to report that I have not had an occasion to intervene in a matter of discrimination in Southfield. At least not one that has come to the attention of the Mayor’s Office. If a case of discrimination was brought to my attention I would use my office’s resources to combat the same. As mayor I promote fair housing and recently hosted a fair housing seminar in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. I also regularly perform marriage ceremonies for same sex couples. While Southfield is not Royal Oak or Ferndale, many same sex couples comfortably call Southfield home.
How do you ensure that your city’s objectives are consistently reflected in the actions of municipal employees?
We conduct staff training and publicize or non-discrimination protections with our employees. Further, we have a very diverse staff. During the 2016 Presidential election campaign, I often said that I felt as though I live in a “bubble.” The people I interact with daily in Southfield are not like those I saw a Trump rallies. We all get along in Southfield and value and appreciate differences.
Where does your city need to improve?
In terms of human rights, there is nothing that I can cite. We continue to improve accessibility for those with handicaps and are working on earning AARP’s Age Friendly Community certification.
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?
Among my top goals as Mayor, and with the support of the City Council and administration, we are working on improving our housing stock and strengthening neighborhoods. We continue to lessen the impact of the automobile on life in this city by adding more sidewalks and bike paths. Along these same lines we are working to create a greater sense of place. The transformation of Evergreen Road in our City Centre is an example of this. We are working on streetscapes and the inclusion of more public art in our city. My hope is that well before 2028, we will have a more robust City Centre, have the former Northland Mall site redeveloped and the complete 18-piece Northland art collection restored and on display.