DETROIT – The third and final installment of the groundbreaking town hall meetings on homophobia in Detroit is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 15. Like the previous two, this meeting will take place at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, and the topics on the agenda for this meeting promise to be as colorful and controversial as anything we’ve seen from the series.
Called “Gay Rights v. Civil Rights,” the meeting will look at homophobia in politics, an incredibly timely issue as Michigan braces for Proposal 2, which proposes to write discrimination into the state constitution and outlaw marriage rights for same-sex couples, civil unions, and te offering of any form of domestic partnership benefits by any state-funded agency.
“It means that domestic partnership benefits would legally be banned in Michigan forever,” said Imani Williams, a co-producer of the town hall series and a BTL contributing writer. “That would affect straight people as well as gay people and it would affect the children in those unions. It will also take away the rights of workers’ unions to negotiate benefits, including health and pensions. So we want to tie that in. We certainly want to tie in the urgency that people not only register but that they get to the polls and know the issues and exercise their right to vote as a civil right.”
But are gay rights really civil rights? Well, to the producers of the town hall that’s a no brainer, but the point is to entice those on both sides of the issue into an enlightening dialogue.
“The purpose of making it so explosive in the promotion, ‘gay rights v. civil rights,’ is because there are folks who either don’t view the two as one in the same or they feel strongly about them being one in the same and that conversation needs to happen between those groups,” said Johnny Jenkins, the town hall’s other co-producer and a board member of Detroit Black Gay Pride. “So we can have some honest debate and dialogue about the subject. And hopefully more people than came in will leave educated and informed. That’s the purpose of all town halls, and that’s the specific purpose of this one.”
Quality v. quantity
The town hall will once again be moderated by WJBK Fox 2 news personality Charles Pugh. A representative from the NAACP will be on hand to register voters on the spot, and participants will also learn how they can become involved with a Coalition for a Fair Michigan, the agency working to defeat Proposal 2.
Attendance dropped drastically at the second town hall in May, 130 down from 400 plus. Jenkins is hoping that the urgency of the issues in this election season will help pack the museum once again. But whether or not that happens, Jenkins says it’s the quality of the discussion that matters, not the quantity of people that show up for it.
“The point is really to have the conversation and to have the conversation in an open forum and to have people in the audience who represent the entire community,” he said.
“I think the second town hall was just as successful as the first one. Even though the room wasn’t at capacity it was still historic because that was a conversation that our community hadn’t had.”