Troy, MI Mayor Suggests Gays Should Be Cured, Manages to Look Like Even More of a Jerk

My hometown of Troy, MI is a Detroit suburb that is usually only notable for being the former K-Mart headquarters and the home of the world’s swankiest shopping mall.  Recently, though, it’s been the focus of some not-so-flattering news in the LGBT press,  all thanks to its very bigoted and far-too-vocal-about-it mayor, Janice Daniels. In Autostraddle’s Michigan round-up post, we told you about her infamous Facebook update – “I think I’m going to throw away my I Love New York carrying bag now that queers can get married there” – that garnered controversy and protest after it was discovered by local political blog Keep Troy Strong. Daniels seemed unrepentant at first, refusing to resign and telling the protesters “I said one word that you don’t like. One word.” Yet, she seemed to acknowledge her mistake enough to agree to meet with the Troy High School Gay-Straight Alliance, and it was enough to convince them to cancel their protest in favor of having an event where she spoke against bullying. From the Troy High GSA’s Facebook event page:

A group of us met with the mayor on Thursday night and had a long, oftentimes tense conversation with her. I’m still floored by some of the ignorance she spouted, but she did seem to understand that people are hurt. She repeatedly refused to attend a GSA meeting, but invited the club to “her community center” at a time convenient for herself.

However, after a period of very serious talk about our experiences with bullying and suicides, she appeared to begin to understand that aspect of why what she did was wrong. Throughout all of this, she insisted that she, too, had been bullied, and so she wanted to stress forgiveness. We came to a compromise of sorts and decided to hold an event featuring her as a speaker called “Prevention, Healing, and Forgiveness” that would stress ending bullying, helping the victims recover, and forgiving those that did not mean to hurt others.

I think this is an excellent starting point because it will help bring the city back together, teach people that what they say can hurt, and help victims recover.”

So the mayor got the message and made amends for her cruel statements, right? And everything’s shiny and happy in Troy now?

Well, not quite.

via troymi.gov

The “anti-bullying forum” was held on January 9th, and attended by Troy High GSA members as well as lesbian couple Amy and Tina Weber, who you may remember from Amy’s awesome speech to the Troy City Council. At a meeting where Daniels was supposed to be proving that she was committed to the fight against bullying and willing to help make things better, she instead chose to show Troy’s LGBT community that she was holding steadfast to her homophobia. As Troy High senior and GSA member Skye Curtis said, “There were a lot of very disturbing things said in that meeting.”

For instance, according to the Troy Patch, Daniels, while discussing mental health and suicide among members of the LGBT community, at one point suggested putting together a panel of psychologists to show that homosexuality is dangerous to your mental health, as reported by Curtis, fellow GSA member Zach Kilgore, and the Webers.

Daniels has denied making this claim, saying “This is a misinterpretation entirely.” And Kilgore and Curtis themselves have admitted it was “implied” rather than outright stated – but it’s hard to listen to them repeat what was said without picking up on the same implication:

“Her tune changed completely,” Kilgore said. “Before, she was very for an anti-bullying event because she thought we could turn this into a positive thing. What we found out today was that she was not planning on doing that.: “She turned it into an anti-suicide thing, which is great, but she wanted to completely ignore the issue that started this.” 

“That bullying leads to suicide,” Curtis continued. “Then we started talking about who could possibly speak, and she alluded to the fact that she wanted to bring in a panel of psychologists who would testify that homosexuality was a mental disease.”

“This was implied by her,” Kilgore clarified. “She didn’t explicitly say it. Somebody said something to the effect of, ‘we can’t tell these kids that what they’re doing is wrong.'”

“And she said, ‘well, I can get a panel to testify,'” Curtis said. “Which is really horrifying, because if we’re trying to prevent suicide, telling a room full of gay kids that they have a mental disease probably isn’t a way to prevent suicide.”

Skye Curtis and Zack Kilgore via Jen Anensi - Troy Patch

Not helping the mayor’s case is the fact that she is refusing to release the tapes of the meeting, despite requests from the GSA members and the Webers as well as various members of the Troy City Council, arguing that “releasing the recording would be in the mayor’s best interest if she has nothing to hide. At least six people “affiliated with the GSA” have since filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the tape, so hopefully we’ll get to find out soon exactly what was said.

As a former resident of the city, I really wish I could say that any of this surprised me, but it does not.  Despite, like most Detroit suburbs, having been built by “white flight,”  Troy is one of the most racially- and religiously-diverse cities in Michigan. But if anything, this diversity just made the bigots I knew in Troy more defensive. For instance, when they got the Harry Potter books banned from my elementary school. I even had a teacher in 7th grade who made a point of finding out who the non-Christians were in her class and then singling us out after school to preach to us.

Naturally, this closed-mindedness extended to attitudes about LGBT people.

The mailings we got from prospective local politicians was always about proving that they were “the conservative choice,” which usually meant going on and on about how they were the most anti-gay and anti-abortion person in the race. Never mind that the Troy City Council will never get a chance to overturn Roe v. Wade or decide whether Michigan will marry same-sex couples; voters ate it up, and if those candidates lost, it was simply because their opponents performed that song and dance better.

 

Anti-gay people love to talk about how they deserve the right to “choose the values” to instill in their kids — to choose to raise their kids as homophobic. Well, my parents had no such choice. They wanted to raise their kids so that whether we were gay, straight, bi or something else, we felt like we could be open about that, and date and love whomever we wanted. But the homophobia that permeated my community made that impossible. Other people’s parents made that choice for mine. The homophobic parents and teachers at my school foisted their values on families like mine who disagreed with them — just as they had by banning books — by ensuring an unwelcoming school environment. And Troy’s mayor is working hard to do the same thing.

Janice Daniels cannot have it both ways. She cannot pretend to be an anti-bullying ally but continue making hateful comments about gay people, or “implications” that gays can be “cured.” It’s people like her — people who claimed to oppose bullying but insisted that we “respect” their homophobia as just another viewpoint on a “complicated” issue — who are making life actively more difficult for LGBT kids in cities like Troy, and across the US. Daniels can choose to ignore the consequences of her actions, and pretend that her words are totally unrelated to the problems high school bullying victims face, but she should know that the kids of Troy High won’t — because they can’t.

Rose is a 25-year-old Detroit native currently living in Austin, TX, where she is working on her Ph.D. in musicology. Besides Autostraddle, she works as a streaming reviewer for Anime News Network.

Rose has written 69 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. I just don’t understand how somebody can be so full of hatred and ignorance like that, and so oblivious to the consequences of their actions.

    I hope some day she realizes how hurtful her views are, and that she finds the grace and serenity to stop judging people for being different than her. Great article, Rose.

  2. I have lots of feelings about the five hundred thousand ways Janice Daniels is awful and dangerous and should probably never open her mouth in public again for the good of humanity. BUT instead I’m going to talk about the good things here. How awesome are the Troy high GSA members? Rock on, Skye Curtis and Zach Kilgore: you are the future, and you are pretty fucking wonderful, and I’m glad you’re here.

  3. I totally just had a flashback to my freshman psychology class when I was reading this.

    Back then I was not even out to myself, and we were going over what psychologists considered “deviant” behavior. There were like, four qualifiers, and the most important one was that truly deviant behavior either harmed other people or harmed oneself.

    Being the righteous fundamentalist Christian that I was back then, I decided to publicly ask my professor then why was homosexuality not considered deviant, since so many people in the gay community had AIDS and were responsible for spreading this disease.

    I shit you not.

    I had completely blocked this out, and reading this article made me remember that strange person I used to be. Not just strange, but completely ignorant. I just had no idea. I didn’t think about the fact that the statements I was making were inflammatory or just downright hurtful. I didn’t think about the fact that the people sitting around me might be gay. I didn’t think about the fact that the information I was using to make my argument were not facts I had researched for myself, but things I took as gospel from my parents and Christianhighschool teachers.

    I just wanted a chance to convince people that our society was very bad, and the only way to truly fix it was to turn to Jesus. In my own weird way, I thought I was proselytizing. And in my head, it made sense. I was being compassionate. Because the truth is that I didn’t want people to go to hell. I was terrified that all these interesting and funny people would go to hell, and I didn’t want that to happen.

    It was scary being me back then. All of the cool friends I was making were just SO WRONG. They didn’t understand about hell. Maybe they’d never really understood Christ’s message? If I could just prove I was smart, and nice, and a good Christian, they would understand. That’s all I needed to do. Stand as a stopgap to hell.

    I honestly thought of myself as that girl, standing between a corrupt world and a fiery eternity of pain. If I couldn’t make them listen, it would be my fault that they burned forever. I had a lot of anxiety, and I was pretty depressed. It was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had.

    I am not justifying the hurtful statements I made. I was definitely wrong. But in a way, I understand this mayor, as ignorant as she is. I get her. She believes she is right. She genuinely doesn’t see why people are upset. And she is trying, in her own uninformed way, to figure out how to fix things with a community that pretty much confuses the shit out of her.

    Maybe I’m wrong and she’s a sociopath. But I believe that most people are inherently good. Most people don’t want to hurt others. But ignorance, fear, and a million other little grievances make people do and say really stupid things.

    I wish I could sit down with people like this privately and say nice things to them. I wish I could be that person who gets them. The person who explains hey, the things you say in public really fucking matter. Even if you are afraid of some nameless thing that will happen if you embrace the gay community, isn’t love always the best response? Can true compassion ever be wrong?

    • I understand you, but I don’t understand her. There is a whole world between being an uninformed endoctrined teenager and being an uninformed endoctrined middle-aged politician. When one makes “taking care” of people and impacting their lives their civil carreer, I consider that doing the needed research, checking facts and listening to all sides on the matter with a critical neutral point of view before taking action or publicly speaking about something is a non-negociable requirement for the job. Maybe I’m just hopelessly utopist, because there are far too few politicians who seem to agree with me.

      • I don’t know if there’s that much difference, really. I could easily have continued on in my little world, uninformed, indoctrinated, and completely ignorant of why my views were hateful. The fact is, if I were straight, I would have. The only reason I left my church was because I was gay. Questioning my church’s teachings on that led me to question a lot of other things as well.
        I have no idea what her religious affiliations are, but I’m sure she has some. And it sounds as if she got elected in a small town, where her ideas about gay people were never directly challenged until recently.
        I WISH politicians could be neutral about issues until they had researched them thoroughly. I wish that politicians had enough significant life experiences to render them more empathetic, and to allow them to see the impacts they can directly have on entire communities.
        But in the end, politicians are people, and they can be just as misinformed and ignorant as anyone else. In fact, sometimes they are more so.
        Unfortunately, what she says and does has a much bigger impact on people than the average person. She does have more responsibility to be informed. I am definitely not excusing her.

        • Well, part of the problem here is that Troy is not a “small town.” It has a population of over 80,000 people, making it one of the largest cities in Michigan (currently ranked 11th). And as I said in the article, it is fairly diverse, particularly with regard to religion. You couldn’t really attend public schools in the city and not be aware of the fact that Christianity wasn’t the only religion around. So when people were ignorant about that, it was on purpose.

          That’s bad enough coming from ordinary residents, but when you’re the mayor of a city like that, you really have no excuse – especially given how much the city government loves tokenizing its religious minorities for self-promotion.

        • Here’s the thing, though. This is an issue that’s also about power, and it’s about the way that Janice Daniels as Troy Mayor has a certain kind of institutional power behind her that means she doesn’t get to be ignorant, afraid, or bring any of her other shit into public office and then get a free pass because those things affect her. You, as an 18-year-old kid, did not have that kind of power–trust me, I teach college freshmen–and so we could have a conversation about all your fears etc. If my students express the kind of idiotic hate Daniels does in my classroom, I would do my level best to suppress the urge to slap them upside the head and I would be respectful, I would listen, I would respect their values and affirm their fears while also gently trying to show them there’s nothing to be afraid of. But Daniels has broken the fundamental contract we have with our political figures–that they be rational, that they listen to their constituents, that they transcend the petty irritants and personal fears that plague their lives and think about the people they represent. (Curtis and Kilgore, wonderful humans that they are, ARE giving her that respect. I would have smacked her over the head with every book of queer theory I own, personally.) So, no, she’s not just a person, she’s a) a grown-arse woman, and b) a public figure, and therefore should be able to resist the urge to spout hate on facebook; should be able to articulate her political position logically; and she sure as shit should not be telling teenagers that there is something wrong with them *even if in her personal life she thinks there is*. At the very least, she should be able to respect the teenagers who were in their almost superhuman tolerance willing to give her a second chance. And because as a public political figure Daniels has done none of those things, she does not deserve conversation. She deserves to be booted out of public office so hard our dyke boots leave a footprint on her arse.

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