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October 2023

When in late June of this year Downtown Newsmagazine reported the theft of a Pride flag from the front of Shain Park Realtors on Martin Street in downtown Birmingham, I didn't give it much thought. My view of that, however, has changed in the weeks following.

In the early morning hours on Friday, June 29, as I was editing the story that would appear later that day in our Update Newsletter we email each week to several thousand followers, my first thought was that what police officials classify as a larceny was probably the work of local youths.

But this was not the first time that the real estate firm had a Pride flag taken from its front window. It was the third time in the course of June, a month marked in many communities as Pride Month, a time of the year that members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies celebrate progress that has been made on behalf of this minority group in overcoming prejudice.

As a bit of history, Pride Month originally started as a commemorative event celebrating the Stonewall Riots or Stonewall Uprising dating to June 28, 1969 in New York City's Greenwich Village, a culmination of decades of harassment directed at members of the gay community who were often refused service at most bars and clubs in the city until the New York City Commission on Human Rights ruled in 1966 that gay patrons could be served. The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in the Village, owned and operated by the Mafia at the time, was the one place members of the LGBTQ+ community could gather without disdainful treatment, although police still conducted frequent raids on the inn because it technically did not have a liquor license. The leaders of the organized crime community would often be alerted by cops on their payroll of when raids would take place. And when raids did happen, history teaches us that patrons were still subjected to humiliating treatment.

On that June day in 1969, no advance warning of a raid was given and the police raid caused a riot that lasted for a week in the surrounding neighborhood. The Stonewall Uprising eventually gave birth to a number of LGBTQ+ political activism groups, many still operating today.

Nowadays, a number of communities host Gay Pride events each year, mainly in the month of June. By some accounts, the LGBTQ+ community in the city of Detroit hosted one of the earliest Pride parades in 1986. Closer to home, Ferndale serves as the epicenter for events observing Pride month and other activities during the year leading up to the annual celebration of diversity in general. The city is often called the metro Detroit “gayborhood,” like you would find in NYC, Philadelphia, or the West Hollywood area in California.

So the theft on three occasions in June of a Pride flag from a Birmingham building housing the business of gay owners is bothersome.

Shane Park Realtors is owned by James and Kevin Cristbrook. Like many married couples, they raised a son who attended school in the local area. They are involved and contribute to the local community.

In the case of James Cristbrook, he is a noted mentor and speaker who travels the country lecturing on the topic of diversity. Aside from his 20 years in the real estate business, his curriculum vitae includes time in 2022 as the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Diversity Equity & Inclusion Committee Chair; a Realtor Code of Ethics instructor; and a NAR certified At Home With Diversity course instructor, coach and mentor. You get the picture.

The Pride flag thefts are a reminder for all that there is no clearly safe space when it comes to minorities of any persuasion, as evidenced by the August killing of a southern California store owner because she displayed a Pride flag on the front of her business.

Many would like to think that those living in the Birmingham bubble are tolerant of others and inclusive in general, and for the most part that may be accurate. After all, the city as early as 1992 adopted an ordinance outlawing discrimination, including sexual orientation, when it came to housing. The ordinance does not protect employment rights or the rights to public services, but those concerns are now addressed in the Michigan Elliott-Larson Act of 1976 that was expanded in March of this year to protect the LGBTQ+ community.

We are given the occasional reminder that our world here is not perfect.

Take for instance the rumor we were handed late last year that newly elected Birmingham school board member Colleen Zammit – backed by a couple of fringe-right groups, and though not endorsed specifically by the Moms for Liberty far-right group, certainly cut from a similar mold – had met just days after her November election victory with Seaholm High School officials, including the principal and the Seaholm/Groves media specialist (librarian), to discuss what we were told were her concerns about both books in the library and what 2023 Pride Month events were going to be promoted in the school. When we met a wall of silence from the administration, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the district for copies of any correspondence involving this newly elected board member.

What we received told us that, yes, a meeting had been held and the newly-minted school board member and some other parents raised concerns about certain books in the Seaholm library and the curriculum. The email correspondence suggests that some objections were made about what is “morally acceptable.” We can only assume that some of the discussion touched on LGBTQ+ concerns because the email exchanges had the group objecting to references that their view was a “conservative perspective” and an insistence that there was no anti-LGBTQ+ agenda in their effort. Right. Color me suspicious on those two points.

To this day, we are not sure what the upshot of the get-together was but it does suggest that below the surface there are undercurrents here that threaten the rights of the majority population by those who would would restrict what is read or taught to fit with their “moral” view of the world. Whether intended or not, allowed to flourish unchecked, it sends a message that not all are welcome here. As I have written in the past, misguided attitudes and values on crucial issues are often passed along in the home, from one generation to the next. Until this cycle is broken, Michigan will remain an unwelcoming place for a part of the population that has been marginalized for far too long.

STOLEN FLAGS UPDATE: Kudos to U.S. Congresswoman Haley Stevens (D-District 11), who represents Birmingham, Bloomfield Township, Bloomfield Hills and a large swath of Oakland County. She took it upon herself to replace the Pride flag at Shain Park Realtors. A Seaholm graduate who was an early member of the diversity club there, she did her stint in the D.C. political world, returned and remains a resident of Birmingham. Stevens made her bones in the Obama administration which helped the auto industry survive and is a force in efforts to grow manufacturing concerns here. She also continues to push for adoption of the Equality Act, adopted first in the last Congress but which remains stalled in the current House session. Class act.

David Hohendorf



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