This letter to the editor originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press. 08/06/2023
We write to express our agreement with many of the important points Emme Zanotti made in her recent opinion piece. (“It isn’t about a rainbow flag. LGBTQ Michiganders are fighting for their lives,” Detroit Free Press, June 9.) As ACLU attorneys, we’d also like to add a legal perspective to the growing trend of banning public displays of support for the LGBTQ+ community.
One point made by Ms. Zanotti that needs to be amplified is this: Hamtramck and Dearborn — cities with large Muslim populations and Muslim political leadership — have received a disproportionate amount of media coverage whenever the issue of government restrictions on LGBTQ+ expression arises. But while media outlets were focused on Hamtramck and Dearborn, places like Livingston County, Livonia and Eastpointe were all taking similar actions against the LGBTQ+ community. How much have they been in the news?
The unfortunate reality is anti-LGBTQ forces are at work in cities and school districts across America — including far too many Michigan cities and school districts. Local officials often claim that if they permit the flying of pride flags on government property or the posting of pro-LGBTQ+ placards on school walls, they would be required to honor other such requests, including those that most people would find offensive. Some of these officials even claim they are constitutionally required to remain neutral.
They are wrong.
Just as the First Amendment protects freedom of speech for individuals, government bodies are also allowed to express their values by choosing which flags they will or will not fly. They are completely free to show they welcome LGBTQ+ people in their communities and their schools by displaying flags, or other displays, without running afoul of the Constitution.
Whether cities and school districts that ban expressions of support for LGBTQ+ people are driven by real or feigned fears of legal liability, their message is loud and clear: LGBTQ+ people and students are not welcome nor supported.
That is both wrong and dangerous, and it comes at a time when state legislatures across the nation have introduced a record-breaking number of anti-LGBTQ bills this year (nearly 500) that limit access to health care for trans people, censor school curricula and ban books featuring LGBTQ+ people.
These political attacks, and the inflammatory rhetoric accompanying them, only serve to foster hate. As Ms. Zanotti pointed out, violence has already increased to the point that LGBTQ+ people are nine times more likely to be victims of hate crimes than heterosexual people.
Given that, do we really want our local governments and school districts to remain "neutral" in ensuring LGBTQ+ people are accorded the same fairness and dignity as others?
We must not allow a vocal few to dominate the conversation and drive anti-LGBTQ+ policies in our communities. Together, we must speak out and demand that public officials take actions to support of LGBTQ+ people. Together, we must speak out and demand that public officials take actions to support LGBTQ+ people. The time to do that is now.
Jay Kaplan & Ramis J. Wadood