A dance, a teach-in and a blood drive sound innocent enough for the Ann Arbor City Council to back, but once again, the Republicans couldn’t see beyond the word “gay” in the Gay Pride Week resolution. Like last year, the resolution to officially recognize June 23-29 as Gay Pride Week failed, with the six Republicans voting against.
This time, Ann Arbor was joined by its neighbor Ypsilanti in refusing to recognize the week. Ypsi Mayor George D. Goodman went so far as to say such a resolution might encourage violation of the state law which prohibits homosexual acts.
But even without official recognition, Gay Pride Week activities are continuing both in Ann Arbor and in Detroit. Scheduled for Saturday, June 28, is the biggest event - a rally at Kennedy Square in downtown Detroit which will bring together gay people from all over the state. Here in Ann Arbor. events will continue a little longer with a blood drive on July 11.
Two other resolutions related to the Gay Pride resolution were also brought before Council on Monday, June 17 by Human Rights Party Council member and lesbian Kathy Kozachenko. They first resolved that “the Ann Arbor City Council stands proudly and firmly behind its human rights ordinance on sexual preference, and urges other communities to adopt similar legislation.”
Surprisingly, this resolution received support from three Republicans, Roger Bertoia, Jack McCormich and Robert Henry. According to Henry, he voted for it because “If I didn’t support [the human rights ordinance], I would propose its repeal.”
But Stephenson, along with Lou Belcher and Richard Hadler, refused even that minimal support of the sexual preference section. Stephenson pointed to a case in Boulder, Colorado, where a Mayor is faced with a recall petition because he supported a gay rights proposal.
A stronger resolution instructing city police “to cease their harassment of gay people and to carry out their job of protecting the rights and well-being of gay people” did not receive any support from Council Republicans. Henry claimed he couldn’t support it because the charges of police harassment were not validated.
The resolution specifically charged the AA Police department with refusing to protect gay people from harassment by other people, as well as participating in and encouraging such harassment.
“Many cases of harassment are not even reported to the police,” said Kozachenko. “Many gay people feel there’s no point in going to the police. They don’t need to be treated like shit twice.”
Democratic Council member Norris Thomas came out strongly for Council directing police priorities. “The only way for Council to end harassment of people is to go on record against it.” he said. “The police harass anybody whose lifestyle is different from theirs, whether they are black, or gay, or young. Anyone who can’t support this resolution shouldn’t been on Council.”
The Republicans argued there was a procedure in existence for dealing with such complaints, referring the resolution to the grievance officer to investigate. However, the grievance officer has been cut from the new budget, which goes into effect July 1. By referring the resolution to a department which will only exist fifteen more days, the Republicans effectively prevented any immediate action on the resolution.
Following this action by Council, gay people in the audience, angry at the results, shut down the meeting. With only one resolution left on the agenda, which was also submitted by Kozachenko and was withdrawn when the Republicans refused to further discuss the police resolution, Stephenson proceeded to adjourn the meeting.
The next day, Stephenson commenting on the meeting while appearing on Ted Heisel’s radio talk show, Community Comment (WPAG), called the people in the audience “crazies.” He had asked Kozachenko before the meeting as to how many people would be there, so he could make appropriate security arrangements. Whether he had directly arranged it or not, the Council meeting had two undercover agents in attendance taking pictures of speakers and demonstrators. Other police were scattered through the audience. In Ypsilanti, the meeting was a bit more calm.
The Gay Pride Week resolution received support from HRP Council member Harold Baize and two Democrats (HRP Council member Eric Jackson was not at the meeting). The failure of the resolution brought a few boo’s and a walkout by its supporters.
At a press conference the following day, Kozachenko admitted that she had not expected the Council to be sympathetic to the problems of gay people.
“These people don’t have an ounce of. understanding of what it’s like living powerless,” she said. “The only way to stop them from sleeping for a few minutes at the meeting is for 60 people to come down and demonstrate.”
Kozachenko said she would bring the matter up again at Council after the grievance officer no longer exists. She suggested setting up some sort of reporting mechanism to help validate the charges made in the resolution on police harassment of gays.
She also said that HRP will be working during the summer and fall on a proposal for community control of police.
“It would be set up with representatives from all groups in the city, particularly those victimized by the police. What the police do depends on how much they think the people in the community are really watching them. Ultimately, none of us like police or want police, but the only changes will come when those people who have traditionally been victimized become forceful and strong.”
Kathy pointed out that the straight press, by focusing on the demonstrations, never deal with the real issue of the problems gay people face in this society. Given the media’s tendency to focus on disruptive actions, rather than on legitimate grievances about actual gay oppression, it seems that the Gay community should not engage in “shut-downs” of Council, which only add fuel to false media propaganda and don’t really communicate the real issues at stake.
GAY PRIDE WEEK
The problems of gay people was the focus of a teach-in at City Hall on Wednesday, June 26. The gay community organized a forum to discuss gay issues at the Human Rights Department, both to help city workers and to educate the broader community.
As a further community service, a blood drive is being organized for all day on Thursday, July 11 at the Student Chapel, 331 Thompson. It is hoped that a lot of people will come and donate blood.
As the gay community pointed out in a press release, no official sanction is needed to hold Gay Pride Week, or for it to be successful. While the struggle to break down society’s traditional sex roles is a year-round project, the lack of understanding and actual fear of non-traditional lifestyles by those in power cannot stop people from taking a week to bring the struggle into focus and openly support those who have had the courage to work against society’s norms.
-- Ellen Hoffman