Residents Asking for Berkley Councilperson’s Resignation after Vote Against Pride Event, Remark About Sin
(Crystal A. Proxmire, June 9, 2022)
Berkley, MI – Jess has lived in Berkley for 16 years. She and her wife have been together for 15 years, and they have an eight year old daughter. She’s also a lesbian who won’t give her last name for this article because privacy is a concern for people who live in a world where others cast hate and judgment towards them because of who they love.
Jess and other LGBTQ+ members of the Berkley community, as well as straight allies, are coming together after City Councilmember Dennis Hennen cast a “no” vote to approving the Downtown Development Authority’s request to approve the Berkley Pride Picnic event on June 26. The vote took place at the June 6 city council meeting where he was the only one to vote against closing a street for the event.
Berkley Pride Block Party is the first of it’s kind in Berkley, taking place on Robina Street at 12 Mile. “This free, family-friendly event will feature a DJ, food trucks, entertainment, games, crafts for the kids, booths, and more,” says the DDA’s Facebook event. “Gather your friends and family and hang out with us for the afternoon in Downtown Berkley Downtown Berkley Pride Block Party welcomes all LGBTQ+ community members, allies, and organizations to come together for an afternoon celebrating diversity and inclusion.”
DDA Executive Director Mike McGuinness spoke about the event, saying the purpose of DDA events is to try visitors to the downtown. He said that on Sundays the downtown isn’t as busy as other days and this is a chance to welcome people in.The event is hosted by the Downtown Development Authority, which is funded with tax-captured dollars from businesses property tax that are located in the downtown district.
Hennen opposed the event, stating “I’ll be voting no. It’s my deeply held religious conviction that homosexuality is wrong. And to be clear, this is not some sort of homophobia. For example, I feel equally about all kinds of sin. I support the city’s annual pride resolution that supports respect and equal treatment of the LGBTQIA+ community. There are many things that come before council that I personally find objectionable, and I can accept those when the source is private. But I must draw the line at a city-run event that requires my personal endorsement.”
In support of the event, a Berkley resident spoke about her transgender daughter looking forward to the event. “It is events like this that give them the courage to forge ahead, or even fell a little more comfortable in their own skin.” she said. She also said marginalized neighbors should not just stand up for themselves but that non-marginalized neighbors should stand up with them.
Councilperson Natalie Price thanked members of the community for sharing their stories. “When we step up and we say yes, you for you are welcome and supported here, people who have been marginalized, who have been abused, who have been shut out of society and we say you are welcome to be who you are here, not only does that save lives for those individuals – but it makes our entire school, our entire community, safer and stronger because we all feel safe to be who we are. And I just don’t understand how it’s an option to vote any other way than accepting people, loving them, who they are, and saying that loudly and proudly as a city.”
Bridget Dean is a resident, business owner, and Councilperson. Her shop “Have You Any Wool” is located on Robina, and for the Berkley Pride Block Party she’ll be giving free finger-knitting lessons to anyone who’s interested. She said didn’t expect to be having a religious discussion, but wanted to share her feelings. “I do believe in a God who is loving and kind and accepting and understanding, and I think we have a responsibility as human beings… to be kind and to be accepting and to be compassionate and to not be threatened when somebody is different from you.” She added praise for the Berkley DDA and the series of events they’ve been having to attract visitors to local businesses. “I’m grateful to the DDA for bringing business to my front door,” she said.
Mayor Dan Terbreck also supported the event. “It’s incumbent on us as leaders, to lead, and we’re elected to lead… I operate based on doing what is best for our residents… and that means being welcoming and inclusive,” he said.
While the event was approved, Jess and others in the community are still upset by Hennen’s vote and his words. “The residents are shocked and saddened to see a council member use his religious belief that homosexuality is a sin, to guide his decisions when he is supposed to be a voice for the people.
“During his campaign, Dennis did not disclose to the residents that these same beliefs would be used to sway his votes. Instead of what’s in the best interest of the City, he votes in the best interest of his personal religious beliefs,” she wrote in the description for a Facebook event that is organizing people to speak at the next City Council meeting. “If Dennis doesn’t resign, we will start the recall process. I will be asking for residents to assist me in that as well,” the event description states.
Oakland County Times reached out to Jess, who said that she and others had been supportive of Hennen in the past. “This was a shock and he stabbed his whole community in the back by deceiving us. Especially the LGBTQ families like mine,” she said.
She’s encouraging people to attend the City Council meeting on Monday June 20 to speak at public comment about Hennen’s vote. The Facebook event has gotten dozens of responses, including comments from those who plan to attend as well as those who can’t make it but want to show support.
Hennen did not respond to requests to comment for this article.
UPDATE: On June 14 Hennen released a statement:
“I want to give my sincere apology to the Pride and Ally communities for my comments on the June 6th City Council meeting and on Facebook on June 7th.
After speaking with several members of the community, I understand now why my comments were so hurtful.
While trying to make a statement about my religious convictions, I failed to show love and compassion, and I failed to acknowledge the history of severe persecution the LGBTQIA+ community has experienced, often from religious people and institutions, and the harsh and judgmental ways my words would come across.
Had I taken the opportunity to speak to more people beforehand, I would have understood the hurt my words would cause. In that, I failed.
While my views guide every decision I make, I recognize I can’t force them onto others and must keep them separate from government policy.
I am truly sorry.
I realize I have a lot to learn, and I know that some may doubt the sincerity of this apology, but I offer it to make amends and to humbly ask for forgiveness for the hurt that I caused.
I’ll continue to learn from my mistakes. I plan towards communicating with more compassion and to involve more stakeholders in my decision making process going forward.
Even though we all have different views, the overlap between them is huge. I hope it’s in these areas that we can work together to make Berkley a better place for everyone.”
He also shared a video: