Arts & Entertainment
It All Starts With The Kids
But Everyone Must Step Up
Originally printed 1/3/2013 (Issue 2101 - Between The Lines News)
2012 has been a historic and transformative year in many ways in terms of LGBT rights, especially on the national level with several states either securing marriage equality rights or defeating marriage equality bans. It's given me personal hope for what we can accomplish in Michigan. Sadly, we still have a long way to go before we see dramatic changes, but I'm proud to say that despite all of the obstacles we're facing I, along with my staff, have been able to plant some seeds in 2012 that we believe will be fruitful in 2013. We're working on several projects to ensure that whatever the politics, Detroit moves closer to being more progressive and that our LGBT community feels safer.
One thing that works in our favor is that Detroit is one of a few cities in Michigan that has a non-discrimination ordinance that protects sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in both housing and employment. That same language is reinforced in our city charter as well. However, what we have to work on is making sure the language is enforced and that the spirit of the language trickles down into other parts of our city's fabric.
At present, there are zero Gay Straight Student Alliances (GSAs) in Detroit Public Schools (DPS) even though we know LGBT kids have issues in schools with discrimination from their peers, and in many cases, their teachers. We'd made pretty good progress toward GSAs in individual schools, but our work was stymied when leadership changed as one emergency financial manager left and an entirely new team came in forcing us to start over. We also had some push back from individual teachers but we're not discouraged because at the same time we're hearing directly from students that this work is needed. Students need a network of peers and a safe space to be themselves and feel supported. All too often they're made to believe that their voices and concerns don't count.
We're very close to having a policy specifically for dealing with LGBT issues in the Detroit Police Department. The process began with former Chief Godbee who was very committed to seeing this happen. The new Interim Chief has continued the work and our goal is to have a policy and training in place so that no matter who is Mayor or Chief of Police, there is a consistent policy for these issues. Included in the policy will be an LGBT liaison whose job will be to make sure concerns of the community are communicated to the police department and addressed, as well as a committee of community representatives that will assist the department in handling issues. It is groundbreaking to have this type of cooperation from the police department. They are committed to making sure every Detroit resident and visitor, regardless of sexual attraction, gender identity or gender expression, feels safe. We feel very honored to be part of this important moment in our city's history.
Finally, we'll be ramping up our "Step Up or Shut Up" campaign in 2013. There is absolutely no way that we will change communities and laws, or have more of the rights we deserve, unless more people are willing to get involved. In 2012, I appointed Alicia Skillman, an out and accomplished member of our community to the Board of Ethics. I want to make more of these appointments. We'll be launching a website where individuals can find a list of all of the boards, commissions and other ways to serve, plus learning the full process for being involved with them. There are also numerous neighborhood groups with opportunities for people to be block captains or involved in some other leadership positions. We need more people willing to step up and run for office, as well, to set policy and make the types of changes we need to gain more rights as a community.
I'm very optimistic about what 2013 will hold for LGBT rights in Michigan and looking forward to doing my part to take the movement to the next level and make real impact, particularly in Detroit.Charles Pugh is president of the Detroit City Council.
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