Hamtramck Mayor Amer Ghalib (L) and Tudor Dixon (R) | Hamtramck and Andrew Roth photos
Updated, 9:01 a.m. 7/15/23 with comments from AG Nessel
The day after a vote by the Hamtramck City Council to remove two officials who flew a Pride flag on city property, the city’s mayor alleged that Attorney General Dana Nessel was part of an intimidation campaign by the LGBTQ+ community.
On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously voted to remove Russ Gordon and Cathy Stackpoole from the Hamtramck Human Relations Commission after they flew a Pride flag over a public sidewalk. The action came in response to the all-Muslim council’s vote in June, which is Pride Month, to prohibit certain flags, including the Pride flag, from being displayed on city-owned property.
“This Council believes in fairness, neutrality towards our residents, and the rule of law, amongst other things for this community,” Councilmember Khalil Refai told right-wing Fox News. “We passed a resolution recently to do just that, and two of our sworn commissioners outright defied it, and did what they wanted.”
Then on Wednesday, Hamtramck Mayor Amer Ghalib appeared on the podcast for former GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon, who lost to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last year. He described the group that put up the flag as a “militia.”
“I was passing by and I saw people videotaping and taking pictures and some militia gathering around the flagpole, and I took action,” he told Dixon. “The city took it down within a couple of hours, but [came] to find out who led this process, it was the chair of the [Human Relations Commission], the former mayor [Karen Majewski], a group of politicians that one day they used to lead this city, and now they are acting like a militia … No responsibility, very irresponsible action. No respect for law and order.”
Ghalib and Dixon then discussed the city council’s unanimous vote to remove the LGBTQ+ flag from flying on city property.
Labeled as a “neutrality flag resolution,” it also prohibited the display of religious, ethnic, racial and political flags and states that the city won’t provide “special treatment to any group.”
That was a theme Ghalib went back to repeatedly on Dixon’s podcast.
“The city thought that we just need to be neutral and to represent everyone equally, because all these groups in this city belong,” he said. “There are minorities and they need support in one way or the other, and some of them are subject to discrimination in one way or the other as well. So I need to treat people equally. Everyone is equally important to me, and therefore we pass(ed) the resolution to confirm the neutrality of the city toward its residents.”
In January, Ghalib was sworn in as the first Muslim mayor of Hamtramck, as was the first all-Muslim council, making the Detroit suburb the only one in the country in which all elected officials are Muslims.
Dixon, who lost to Whitmer in November by nearly 11 points, then turned the conversation to GOP efforts at courting the Muslim community over their joint opposition to LGBTQ+ rights. During her campaign, Dixon ran on a platform of banning books, barring trans athletes from competing in school sports and enacting a Florida-style “Don’t Say Gay” law for schools.
“Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the Muslim community on national television because people have said, ‘Oh, Republicans are trying to horn in on the Democrats’ territory, that the Muslims belong to Democrats,’” she said on the podcast.
“And it was interesting from my perspective, because running for office, I had a lot of people who said to me, ‘You know, you’re a Christian American and you’re not going to be able to win over the Muslim community.’ And then as the campaign went on, we started to connect with our friends in the Muslim community, and they were like, ‘Look, we believe in policies.’ I mean, we’re, we’re obviously putting our faith aside, but it’s our conservative values that we agree on.”
“Muslims are conservative,” he said. “They give high value to their faith and their families and their freedom, the three Fs. But I will say they put faith and family first and, and some people will sacrifice some of their freedoms in order to protect their faith and family structure.”
Ghalib did not address how displaying a Pride flag would endanger his faith and family structure.
However, before she launched her campaign, Dixon had been critical of Muslims. Speaking on the Feb. 22, 2018, “Rush to Reason” podcast, Dixon called hijabs “oppressive garments” and suggested Iranian women are being “murdered by their own family” for marrying without their consent. Many Muslim women say they are happy to wear a hijab, as it is a symbol of their faith.
And during her campaign in October 2022, Dixon was featured at a fundraiser hosted by Carle Higbie, a disgraced right-wing activist who resigned from the Trump administration after making racist anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ+ statements.
During her campaign, Dixon also pushed to ban what she called “pornographic” books in schools, aimed at material that mostly dealt with LGBTQ+ issues and characters. When that issue embroiled the Dearborn Public Schools in October, Dixon was quick to join in. She held a campaign rally in the city alongside former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard about a week before the November election.
“We’ve got some pretty sketchy books in schools, and [Whitmer] made it clear that she thinks it’s funny to make a mockery of this, that these parents’ concerns don’t matter,” said Dixon to the audience.
Dearborn Public Schools, Michigan’s third-largest district, has a large Muslim population and the attempts by Dixon and other Republicans to divide the community were condemned by Abdullah Hammoud, Dearborn’s first Arab-American and Muslim mayor.
“People can disagree on ideas without letting bad-faith actors tear our community apart,” he said. “The same dangerous ideology that once considered people like me ‘a problem’ in Dearborn is now being revived under the guise of preserving ‘liberty.’”
On the podcast, Ghalib also raised the idea that opposition to the flag ban was part of an organized campaign and was leading to a shift by Muslim voters away from the Democratic Party.
“So since I took my office, I only see one obstacle in my way, and it’s created by some radical groups in the left wing here, led basically by the former mayor and the former power structure in my city supported by high elected officials in the state and other places,” he said. “So what are they doing to prevent that shift? They’re doing nothing. They are actually putting more pressure on us. They are sending some elected officials to protest in our city and to threaten us.”
Ghalib was referring to a June 24 protest when Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined over 200 pro-LGBTQ+ people gathered outside of Hamtramck City Hall to express dissent at the flag ban.
Nessel took exception to the idea that banning the Pride flag was meant to keep the city “neutral” toward its residents.
“Respectfully, I disagree,” she said. “Banning the Pride flag is meant to send the very opposite message: a message of intolerance, hatred, and bigotry. … As it’s said, ‘In situations of injustice, neutrality always favors the oppressor, never the oppressed.’ And as Martin Luther King Jr. so aptly observed: ‘The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict. Anyone who accepts evil, without protesting against it, is one who cooperates with it.’
“And make no mistake: homophobia, transphobia, are indeed forms of evil just as much as Islamophobia is,” Nessel continued.
But Dixon said Nessel’s appearance at the protest was an attack on the Muslim community.
“I know the attorney general, Dana Nessel, was there, and she said that she wasn’t there to intimidate. However, if you’re there protesting, I mean, that seems as though you’re there to intimidate a religious group. Really. This is going after a group of people for their faith, which is truly protected in this country,” said Dixon.
Nessel spokesperson Danny Wimmer said in an emailed statement to the Advance on Friday the attorney general “had no discussions with other state officials in making the decision to attend the event on June 24th.
“The Attorney General partook in a protest against a regressive municipal policy she finds offensive to the values of inclusion, equity, and equal protection under the law,” Wimmer said. “Attorney General Nessel has participated in countless events protesting policies she finds antithetical to the rights and interests of the constituents she serves, and she can be expected to continue her vocal support of LGBTQ+ Michiganders throughout the remainder of her term in office.”
Wimmer also said that Nessel had no role in Fiscal Year 2024 budget negotiations.
“The Department of Attorney General is only engaged in the state budget process in relation to advocating for the needs of the Department. She has never spoken to any state or local officials in regard to Hamtramck budget requests,” Wimmer said. “For any inquiries regarding funding requests by the city of Hamtramck, we’d suggest contacting Representative [Abraham] Aiyash (D-Dearborn) and Senator [Stephanie] Chang (D-Detroit) who represent Hamtramck in the legislature and would have information on what occurred during budget negotiations.”
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