Sterling Heights city officials and community members pose with a Pride flag by City Hall on June 1 during a flag raising ceremony.

Sterling Heights city officials and community members pose with a Pride flag by City Hall on June 1 during a flag raising ceremony.

Photo provided by the city of Sterling Heights

City declares LGBTQ+ Pride Month with resolution, flag raising

Some residents object

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published June 5, 2023


STERLING HEIGHTS — Rainbow colors fly in the sky at Sterling Heights City Hall as city officials honor Pride Month this June.

City officials, members of the pro-diversity Sterling Heights CommUNITY Alliance and members of Macomb County Pride were expected to attend a June 1 pride flag-raising ceremony at the flagpole outside City Hall.

This was prefaced by a Pride Month resolution the Sterling Heights City Council unanimously passed at its May 16 meeting. The resolution annually makes June Pride Month in the city. It says that aligns with the city’s 2030 Visioning Statement, which calls for a “vibrant, inclusive community” that is “safe, active, progressive and distinctive.”

“In this spirit, the City is committed to supporting the visibility, dignity, and equity of all people in our City,” the resolution said.

The resolution adds that it “encourages all residents, employers, and community organizations in Sterling Heights to celebrate the valuable contributions of the LGBTQ+ community and members who enrich the diversity and vitality of our neighborhoods, institutions, government organizations, and businesses.”

During the May 16 meeting, resident and CommUNITY Alliance member Cynthia Bjornson thanked the council for designating every June as Pride Month.

“My partner and I have been together for 40 years. For the past 27 years, we’ve lived in Sterling Heights,” Bjornson said. “We appreciate your support and your commitment to making the LGBT+ community feel accepted, welcome and respected in Sterling Heights.”

The plans to fly the pride flag also attracted some criticism.

At the meeting, Sterling Heights resident Sanaa Elias said she believes that the city was promoting one group over another and not making her feel welcome.

“All I’m saying is it’s not fair; it’s not constitutional; it’s not equality,” she said. “It is not fair for me to not be able to fly that Christian flag or the Italian flag, whatever, to commemorate a certain event, but you fly that LGBT flag for a select few people of the residents here, which offends some of us.

“Because I don’t believe anybody should have a flag. It should be either all or none, because it’s not fair. You guys are not fair — you’re picking and choosing who you want to support.”

Elias referred to a 2022 Supreme Court case, Shurtleff v. City of Boston, and she interpreted the ruling to mean that “you cannot just pick and choose what you want to fly.”

Another public speaker, who did not identify herself, said that Jews, Muslims and Christians may also want to fly flags during their respective holy days or months. And while she said she doesn’t necessarily believe that those groups should be allowed to fly their own flags, “to allow one group to fly their flag and exclude the others is biased, and it’s discriminatory.”

In response, Mayor Michael Taylor said the city has previously flown the POW flag and the Purple Heart flag, and he said flying the pride flag is “completely different” from a city endorsement of religion, which he said is illegal.

Taylor also said Sterling Heights’ policy differs from Boston’s in the Supreme Court case.

“In that situation in Boston, the city had essentially given up that flagpole and let any private group use it,” he said. “And by ceding that public flagpole to allow any private group to use it, then yes, any private group that wanted to use it had the right to use it.

“But we’re not doing that here. We’re not allowing private groups to use the flagpole. We’re deciding as a city … what flags we’re going to fly.”

Taylor said the city values openness, a welcoming attitude, diversity, inclusion and understanding. He said it’s “unfair to say that we’re not being open, welcoming — or we’re being discriminatory against Christian people,” adding that the city hosts a periodic interfaith clergy forum, and it recently recognized Utica United Methodist Church’s 200 years of history.

The mayor added that he would consider recognizing the events or causes of local ethnic groups who live in the city, or “particularly marginalized groups,” if they sought recognition or awareness. He said recognizing diverse groups doesn’t have to detract from others’ individuality.

The Sterling Heights City Council has previously addressed LGBTQ+ policies. In 2014, the council approved a nondiscrimination ordinance in terms of housing, employment and public accommodations that covered sexual orientation and gender identity. But the city repealed it months later after a petition drive from opponents succeeded in potentially putting the issue on the ballot as a referendum.

However, in 2022, the city once again passed a nondiscrimination ordinance that did the same things as the previous one.

Earlier this year, Sterling Heights announced that the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBTQ causes, significantly increased the city’s Municipality Equality Index score in recent years — from 8 out of 100 in 2019, to 91 in 2022.

The organization reportedly looked at the city’s policies and services toward the LGBTQ community. The group says on its website that its goal is to “ensure that all LGBTQ+ people, and particularly those of us who are trans, people of color and HIV+, are treated as full and equal citizens within our movement, across our country and around the world.”

The Municipality Equality Index, “examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies, and services are of LGBTQ+ people who live and work there. Cities are rated based on non-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and leadership on LGBTQ+ equality.”

At the May 16 meeting, Taylor said “we’ve made incredible strides” compared to a decade ago.

“No one of us can take credit for that,” he said. “But I think what we’ve been doing over those last 10 years has helped make this a better community for everyone. So I’m proud of it, and I thank those who support it.”