2 Detroit-area commissioners suspected of illegally flying Pride flag on city property ousted by city council

News & Politics

Two members of a commission in a Detroit-area city have been ousted by the city council after they reportedly raised a Pride flag on city property in direct defiance of a new law.

A month ago, TheBlaze reported that Hamtramck, Michigan — a city almost entirely contained within the city of Detroit and the only city in the country with an all-Muslim city council and mayor — passed a law banning all flags on city property except the American flag, the state of Michigan flag, the city flag, a flag honoring American POWs, and “the nations’ flags that represent the international character of” Hamtramck.

Though the law affects all flags related to religious, racial, and political groups, many argued that the bill was aimed primarily at the Pride flag, which celebrates seemingly all sexual orientations except heterosexuality. Despite raucous opposition, the bill passed unanimously and took effect almost immediately.

On Sunday, two members of the Hamtramck Human Rights Commission, Russ Gordon and former Mayor Pro Tem Catrina Stackpoole, apparently defied the law and raised what they called a “progress flag” — a flag that closely resembles a Pride flag — over a public sidewalk along Joseph Campau Avenue. Gordon and Stackpoole, both outspoken activists, then held a rally for so-called LGBTQ rights, a rally attended by former Mayor Karen Majewski and approximately 20 other people. A day earlier, Gordon had also supposedly raised on city property a flag representing the African Union and a flag representing the Cherokee Nation.

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On Tuesday, just two days after the Pride flag incident, the city council and mayor voted unanimously to oust the rogue commissioners from their positions and to strip the Human Rights Commission of the authority to raise any flags on public property. “Disrespecting law and order — that’s the reason why there is a valid cause for removing them from this commission,” said Mayor Amer Ghalib, who was elected in 2021 in part because of his opposition to hoisting the Pride flag on public property. “The purpose and the mission of this commission is to bring people together.”

After the vote, Gordon seemed to admit that he raised the flag to test the limits of the new law and the fortitude of those in public office who must now enforce it. About his removal from the commission, he said, “When I put it up this [Sunday] in violation of the restrictive resolution, they had their rationale,” adding, “I think they were relieved to have an excuse.”

City officials seem prepared to penalize those who violate the law, which does forbid flying the flag on city property. However, the law does not prohibit residents from flying the flag on private property, and some who have chosen to do so have claimed that they have been the victims of attacks motivated by anti-gay animus.

Mike Petrack, who runs an area restaurant, claimed that masked men egged his house on Friday, jeopardizing the safety of his young daughter. “Two adult men could have very easily maimed or killed an innocent child because they are unwilling to tolerate a different point of view,” Petrack said at the city council meeting on Tuesday. “Emboldened by the rhetoric coming from this esteemed body of government, they committed a premeditated string of acts of intimidation and destruction of property against multiple owners and businesses, all because they don’t respect their right to free speech.”

It’s not clear whether any suspects in or motivation for the incident have been identified, but Ghalib and several other members of the council swiftly condemned any vandalism or violence perpetrated against those in the community. But Petrack did not appear satisfied with their condemnation. “Mr. Mayor, as far as I’m concerned, it’s your duty to speak at every Friday service in town until it stops,” Petrack said, referring to the Muslims who gather at mosques on Fridays to pray together. “If you’re truly against this despicable behavior, then you need to say it louder and more frequently.”

But Ghalib adamantly insisted that the flag ban was the law of the city and that defiance of the law was a metaphorical attack on “law and order,” which he has been entrusted to ensure. “We expect people who are educated, who are community leaders, to follow the rules, whether you like it or not,” Ghalib said at the meeting. “We expect people to respect law and order.”

It is unclear whether any of the participants at the Pride flag rally will face charges.

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