Michigan

Troy mayor's gay slur brings protest

Students lead way, demand resignation

By Kate Opalewski

TROY -

The energy of youth and hope for a better future could be felt along Big Beaver Road in front of Troy City Hall on Monday afternoon as more than 50 protestors gathered in response to new Troy Mayor Janice Daniels' use of the anti-gay slur "queers" on her Facebook page.

"Troy's reputation has suffered because our mayor is a bigot," said Zach Kilgore, a Troy High School senior who organized the protest in collaboration with the school's Gay-Straight Alliance. "The ultimate goal is to force her to resign. We don't feel secure with the city in her hands."

Daniels' Facebook posting, dated June 25, told her friends: "I think I am going to throw away my I Love New York carrying bag now that queers can get married there." Her post came a day after New York state legislators voted to allow gay marriage in the state.

The protest brought together students, parents and other supporters from nearby cities who stood under umbrellas in the wind and rain in anticipation of Daniels' third city council meeting since being elected Nov 8. With the help of signs that said "Be Kind, Please Resign," "Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech," and "Treat Others The Way You Want To Be Treated," the protestors delivered their message.

"The LGBT community's self-esteem is already in shreds. The LGBT youth struggle enough. We don't think our mayor should be one of those struggles," said Skye Curtis, a Troy High School senior and co-founder of the GSA, who said she has been called a "devil child" by Daniels supporters.

Waiving and cheering while drivers passed by honking their car horns in support, Curtis proudly held her Italian rainbow PACE (Peace) flag with friends. Xinxin Zhou, also a Troy High School senior and member of the GSA, handed out rainbow ribbon pins to protestors.

Among them was Rhonda Hendrickson of Troy who said she is "sickened" by what Daniels said and is concerned about the loss of growth in the community as many people have threatened to boycott local businesses. "This is an example of continued bullying and she apologized days after she was caught because it was politically prudent," said Hendrickson. "I encourage our community to educate themselves and do their homework before electing officials."

Her son, James Hendrickson, a Troy High School junior who held the American flag, added "Mayor Daniels is the voice of our town. I'm here to show that she doesn't represent the people. Our voices need to be heard over the loud, bigoted voices."

Vic Doucette of Southfield was heard loud and clear. "I'm a boring, middle-aged, straight guy with a lot of gay friends who are a part of my extended family. When you attack people I care about, you attack me," said Doucette.

Carla Meier, a Troy resident since 1970, expressed feelings of shame and embarrassment. "I wish Mayor Daniels would resign and let our city move forward," said Meier. "An apology isn't enough."

But an apology is all Dr. Syed Taj of Canton thinks we might get. "I'm not sure how far we can go with this, but it's so important for Mayor Daniels to genuinely acknowledge her mistake and make things right," said Taj, who came in support of the protestors. As candidate for U.S. Congress, he understands the severity of what has happened. "This affects us everywhere, not just in our state. None of us have the right to say these things. We have changed in the last several years and there is a different way to express our beliefs."

Duanne Sonneville of Orchard Lake wants to prevent Daniels from inflicting her beliefs upon others. "I'm here because this is an issue of civil rights, narrow-minded people and opinions."

Chris Jensen of Beverly Hills was simply proud of the students who took the time to organize and come out to protest. "I'm here to support the kids and the community. They are the leaders of tomorrow. They shouldn't be quiet about this and I stand with them to congratulate them."

Daniels met with protestors in an effort to apologize just hours before the city council meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

"I'm not a bully," said Daniels, who admitted to the small group of students and the media that she is human and made a mistake. "I'm a nice person."

Although protestors demanded a resignation from her, Daniels said she would not resign. "I love my new role as mayor." She was berated for her final comments before scurrying off. "I said one word that you don't like. One word," said Daniels.

"Recall Janice Daniels" petitions continued to gather throughout the day. As rain turned to snow and it got dark, the tired and hungry students entered city hall asking for pizza donations while gathered in a small room to prepare before the meeting.

There wasn't an empty seat in the room. Around 80 people signed up to speak for the allotted time of five minutes each. Supporters were lined up against the wall with their protest signs and "I Love New York" t-shirts. Before public comments were received, Daniels once again explained herself.

"I regret what I said. I should not have said what I said. I have asked God for forgiveness and I would hope that you would forgive me as well," said Daniels.

Kilgore addressed Daniels' earlier comment. "Queer is not just a word. I don't think you understand the magnitude of what you said. Perhaps you can give a donation to an LGBT organization or charity. You can even attend a GSA meeting. What would help the most is for you to resign."

The minimal booing from Daniels' supporters in the crowd was overshadowed by the overwhelming sound of applause.

Mayor Daniels and the council were inundated with complaints and criticism from the community. Daniels was ridiculed for more than a bad choice of harmful and dangerous words. She was blamed for lessening the affect of the recent bullying law passed in the state of Michigan. She was educated on the responsibility of Internet usage. She was informed that her personal opinion should not be the basis of her decision-making process.

She was also introduced to a happily married lesbian couple from Birmingham. Amy and Tina Weber came forward with their two biological daughters Logan and Aiden to help Daniels understand the meaning of love and kindness. Drawn pictures were presented to the mayor from the girls. The Weber family told Daniels that "mistakes happen and you can turn it around."

"I am angry. No true remorse has been shown," said Jeff Williams of Troy. "This is a damage control apology. How will citizens ever look at you the same way? Being mayor is a privilege. Take responsibility, do the right thing and resign."

Josh Schirle, a gay man of Royal Oak, was sincere and straight-forward. "Difference does not matter and we will not tolerate those who shut it out," said Schirle.

Toby Gosselin of Troy stepped up to the podium and used her opportunity as a teachable moment, asking the residents to show up and vote. "Where were you when Daniels was elected?" said Gosselin.

Among the many standing in line patiently waiting to speak was openly gay student and co-president and founder of Troy High School's GSA, Sabrina Lee. She addressed the issue of equality and reminded Daniels of her duty. "I feel alienated in my city...older generations teach younger generations. Who are we going to learn from?" said Lee.

"The youth have spoken so eloquently, I almost feel like I shouldn't speak," said Denise Brogan-Kator, Executive Director at Equality Michigan, who spoke as a Troy consumer, a member of the community and a lesbian. "This is the outward proof of your inner contempt of who we are. You have degraded and dehumanized a class of people. I am shocked and offended." Brogan-Kator offered to help Daniels to participate in LGBT discussion and show interest in building upon differences in order to regain her reputation.

The question now is "What is Mayor Daniels going to do?

"We will have to wait and see," said Curtis, who skipped school with her parents' permission to attend the protest. "But we plan to show up at meetings and make our presence known until she steps down."

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