Berkley Overflows with LGBTQ+ Support After Councilperson Hennen’s Remarks and Vote Against Pride
(Elizabeth Schanz, June 21, 2022)
Berkley, Mi – On June 20th, a week after Berkley councilman Dennis Hennen sparked controversy with a no vote for a Pride-themed event and the remarks he made about homosexuality, individuals of all ages packed the city hall. People spilled out into the hallway of the packed meeting room at Berkley City Hall waiting to partake in public comment that lasted nearly an hour. Individuals in attendance came to support the community with rainbow pride wear, their presence, and their voices. They expressed their distaste, distrust, and disgust in hopes of seeing the councilman resign.
Every public comment came from people in or around the Berkley community gathered to have their voices heard. Some individuals were members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies, families such as two moms with their young daughter, a mother with her transgender son, and a priest who embraced the those who are LGBTQ+, and other frustrated community members. All who spoke expressed some level of criticism for Hennen – ranging from asking him to step down or for a recall to take place, requesting Hennen to keep his personal views separate from public decision, to sharing frustrations about what his statements mean in how they impact both the LBGTQ+ community and the entire city of Berkley.
In the midst of the public comment, an informal vote was taken of the attendees to gauge their agreement to these comments. Almost all individuals in the room, in the overflow room, and in the hall put up a hand immediately. The community engagement officer took count and a total of 56 hands in support of the comments, in almost unanimous agreement.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Hennen did not resign. Nor did Hennen say anything to address the neighbors who had come to share their concerns. And when Oakland County Times asked for a comment immediately following the meeting, Hennen declined.
As demonstrated at the Jun 20th meeting, many individuals were taken aback by Hennen’s reasoning for voting no to closing Robina Street for the Downtown Berkley Pride Block Party. The party will continue as his was the only no vote.
At the time Hennen had stated, “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.”
After his remarks spread online, Hennen had issued an apology expressing that he was sorry for his insensitivity, was unaware of how his words came across, and ended the apology with, “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.”
The apology was not enough to deter members of the public from coming to speak.
Individuals expressed their concern for their own safety, representation, and what potential the integration of personal beliefs into politics could have on Berkley.
One person expressed that since Hennen’s comments they have faced negative comments within the workplace, others stated that the comments reinforced prior discrimination or hatred, and many voiced how the statements reflected LGBTQ+ community. Residents of Bekley, a mother, Michelle and her transgender son Evan expressed the impact to the future youth of Berkley.
“You [Hennen] put him in [her son] as the same category as murderers, thieves, and adulterers. Your ignorant and judgemental views will drag this city down. Your views could put my son in danger and others like him, the same people you were supposed to be protecting and making positive decisions for,” said Michelle through tears as her comments were met by supportive applause from the crowd, “There is so much more to this than a block party you voted down.”
One individual, Aubrey Roberts of Berkley, voiced his concern for Hennen’s statement surrounding not getting involved with “sensitive issues” which could extend to other people’s identities as well. He emphasized that the combination of personal beliefs and biases when making decisions will deeply impact people’s lives within local government.
Hennen did not address any of these comments, although the majority of his fellow council members voiced their support for those who spoke for the LGBTQ+ community and the Berkley Pride Block Party on June 26th.
One council member Jessica Vilani sported a pride flag lapel pin as well as a pride coffee mug throughout the meeting to express her allyship. In her comments she particularly acknowledged the young members of the community who spoke out and her continued support for the community.
“I truly hope that long before you are able to voice you will no longer have to speak out about this. I am humbled to have you [LGBTQ+ Community] share your experiences with us. I am also angry that we must continue to have these conversations,” Vilani stated at the end of the meeting, “You have my pledge of continued support advocacy, mom hugs, and a bowl of pasta anytime you need.”
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.”