"Everybody is Welcome in Warren"
During an impromptu interview with the leader of Michigan's third-largest city, Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said that if presented with an inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance by the city council he said, "I would support that." Fouts made the statement when Between The Lines contacted the mayor's office seeking comment regarding Warren's recently adopted Pride Month resolution.
He began by stating that he has been "engaging in some heavy advertising to try to get people to move to Warren" and with assurances that Warren is a welcoming and progressive community.
"Everybody is welcome in Warren, no matter what their orientation or their ethnicity or what have you," Fouts said. "We want people to move to Warren. I think we have a pretty compelling city … I think we have a very compelling reason for LGBT community people to decide that, maybe not only should we look at Ferndale and Royal Oak and Birmingham and downtown Detroit, but maybe we ought to look at Warren."
Fouts described plans for the new civic center, library, fire station and special needs park, as well as something else on the horizon that he's very excited about: a new downtown.
"I just want to add this for the LGBT community — I don't know any other city in the Metro area that's building a south civic center and a new downtown that it'll be competitive," Fouts said. "And by the way, let me just point out one thing about our new downtown: we're gonna have a full-service hotel. It'll be the only full-service hotel in Macomb County."
Later, Fouts shared more about the proposed downtown, including upscale shopping and pubs, and an all-weather bridge.
"We're going to have upscale lofts that would be great for … LGBTQ community people to consider moving into," he said. "I'm hoping that we can say to the LGBTQ community and others that this is the place that you should not just consider visiting but living in."
Progressive, Inclusive, Diverse
As further evidence of inclusivity, Fouts mentioned openly gay city council candidate Connor Berdy, although not by name.
"I hired the first gay person to be on the crime commission," Fouts said. "He's since moved on. He backed the wrong candidate for mayor, but that's the way it went."
While Berdy may be the first openly LGBTQ person appointed to a commission in Warren, in a previous conversation, Berdy said he experienced homophobia in the mayor's office.
"He told me, when I was interviewing to be on the Warren Crime Commission, that I shouldn't be openly gay and that I'll never be successful in politics if I am," Berdy recalled. Following that interview with Fouts, Berdy was appointed to the crime commission in 2018. At the time of this article's publishing, Fouts has not responded to a request for comment about these statements.
After he spoke of Berdy, Fouts showed what he sees as the strides that Warren has made in terms of diversity.
"I think we're a pretty progressive city. Before I was mayor, there was never one African American hired to a city position. Now my diversity director, my fire commissioner, my city attorney and my communication director — who is an African American woman — all are part of my administration, and most of my boards and commissions have members of that community as well as other communities, and so I think we're a pretty progressive community."
Fouts said he wanted to encourage more diverse people to move to Warren. Contrasting himself with the previous mayor who promoted building a wall between Warren and Detroit, Fouts said, "Instead of being exclusive, we're inclusive. I want more people to move in. The only way this community can grow is to have that."
When asked what he thinks about those claims that assert Warren's reputation isn't the best for being LGBTQ-friendly, Fouts pushed back.
"We've been unfairly pointed out that we're not friendly to African Americans and others," Fouts said.
He mentioned his past support of Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama.
"I think the image I may have or the image the city may have I think is fundamentally unfair," Fouts said. "We're very progressive and I'm very excited about our new downtown and all the things we're doing. By the way, we're paving more roads than any other city."
He named an award that called Warren as one of the cleanest cities in the U.S. Fouts added that he responds to all of his calls personally, usually within 24 hours.
"I'm here to serve everybody, and despite [how] some people would like to portray this administration, this mayor or this city — I think we're pretty progressive," Fouts said. "And I want us to be more progressive."
Cut to the Chase
In response, it was suggested one way a municipality can show inclusivity in a state like Michigan that lacks explicit protections for LGBTQ people in its civil rights laws is by passing an inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. Fouts initially replied by saying that was something the city council would have to come up with, but then sounded agreeable.
"I am going to be meeting with the head," Fouts said. "I could tell them that I would support that. I would have no problem with that. The city council would have to do that, not me."
Given that the city council adopted the Pride Month resolution by a margin of six out of seven in favor, it was suggested they would likely be receptive. This was confirmed later in a communication with Council President Patrick Green.
"I think everybody should be treated equally," Fouts said. "There shouldn't be anybody left out on the sides. And I know sometimes people have made disparaging things — by the way, I believe that discrimination [laws] should protect people also on the basis not just of color and orientation and religion, but also age," said Fouts, who is 77.