Jun 26, 2023 - News

Hamtramck Pride flag ban stokes tensions

More than a hundred community members gathered Saturday in a park nearby Hamtramck City Hall to protest an ordinance. Photo: Samuel Robinson/Axios

Hamtramck residents rallied on Saturday against a controversial ordinance passed this month prohibiting Pride flags from being flown on city property.

Why it matters: The Pride flag ban cuts to the core of simmering tensions in Hamtramck since a majority-Muslim council was elected in 2015, and it thrusts the city into a growing national debate over LGBTQ+ rights.

What they're saying: "The goal of our event is to remind folks that the queer and trans community has a long established history in Hamtramck," Amanda Levitt, who organized the event along with a number of residents with the Hamtramck LGBTQ+ Alliance, tells Axios.

The other side: Mayor Amer Ghalib defended the ban as neutral in the face of widespread criticism from other Metro Detroit politicians, per the Free Press.

  • "You do not know our city more than we do, and you will not know the consequences of opening the door for every group to fly their flag on city properties. Our residents are all equally important to us," he said.

Driving the news: The City Council unanimously approved a resolution this month that bans "religious, ethnic, racial, political or sexual orientation group flags" on public property.

  • Permitted flags are the U.S. flag, Michigan's state flag, the Hamtramck flag, the prisoner of war flag and nation's flags "that represent the international character of the city."

Zoom in: Some storefronts down Joseph Campau have continued showing support during Pride month.

  • Ant Hall and the Piast Institute are flying flags while the sidewalk leading up to Dos Locos Tacos has been covered in chalk-written pro-LGBQT+ messages in the days since the ordinance passed.

The big picture: Hamtramck — a 2-square-mile city of about 28,000 within Detroit's borders — has long been a haven of multiculturalism.

  • Thousands of Polish immigrants flocked to the city in the early 20th century to work at the Dodge Main plant.
  • In the last few decades, an influx of Yemeni and Bangladeshi immigrants made the city home. The city is now governed by a socially conservative, all-Muslim council and a Muslim mayor.

State of play: The flag ban has been hard for some — particularly the city's liberal residents — to square with the city's image of diversity and acceptance, the Guardian reports.

  • In fact, the 2015 election of a majority-Muslim council was a point of city pride at the time — a rejection of Islamaphobic rhetoric.
  • “There’s a sense of betrayal,” former Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski told the Guardian. “We supported you when you were threatened, and now our rights are threatened, and you’re the one doing the threatening.”
Tyler Wood and Michael Mulholland hold signs opposing anti-LGBTQ+ policies at the protest Saturday.
Tyler Wood and Michael Mulholland hold signs opposing anti-LGBTQ+ policies and violence.
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