Craig to LGBT community: ‘Detroit has your back’

Candice Williams, The Detroit News

In the early 1990s, the relationship between the Detroit Police Department and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community wasn’t good, the leader of an advocacy agency said Tuesday.

In fact, it was hostile, said Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan, the Detroit-based statewide LGBT group.

“Our lives were not taken seriously,” White said. “Crimes against our community were not taken seriously.”

The police department has improved the relationship by appointing its first LGBT liaison officer and took another symbolic gesture forward Tuesday when the city of Detroit for the first time raised a LGBT rainbow flag at Hart Plaza in honor of LGBT Pride Month.

“We’re 25 years later and here we stand in partnership with Chief (James) Craig,” White said. “Thank you, sir.”

White was among dozens of activists, community members and city representatives attending the Tuesday afternoon event, which preceded the Motor City Pride Festival Saturday and Sunday at Hart Plaza. The flag will be flown for the rest of June.

The city of Detroit has taken steps to support an inclusive community, said Craig, who serves as deputy mayor and represented Mayor Mike Duggan at the event.

“Although today’s flag raising is a small gesture, it says a lot for our community,” Craig said. “Detroit has got your back.”

Shortly after arriving in Detroit in July 2013, Craig appointed Officer Dani Woods as the department’s first LGBT liaison officer. He began a similar effort when police chief in Portland, Maine.

Every police cadet learns about the LGBT community and every active officer receives additional training annually, Craig said.

The chief noted that Detroit scored 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2016 Municipal Equality Index. The index evaluates a city as an employer as well as on its non-discrimination laws, municipal services, law enforcement and relationship with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer community.

Earning 100 percent on the index is no small feat, White said.

“Many times a symbolic gesture is all we can get,” she said. “That’s the first thing we get. We say can you just at least put up a little flag or something that says you don’t hate us, that we’re welcome, that we’re part of this community and if we get that win, we take it as a first step.

“Here in Detroit it’s very interesting the substance has been leading for many years,” White continued. “For many generations they have been making changes that the Chief talked about.”

Dave Wait, chairperson of the Motor City Pride Festival, said one of the festival goals is to show that the city and southeast Michigan is a place where all can live, work and raise families.

“By having the festival we hope to demonstrate that,” he said. “While we are raising the flag we show that there has been some progress. We do have a ways to go and we recognize that.”

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