While gay rights activists are still reeling from Tuesday’s marriage defeat in Maine, Detroit's LGBT residents are celebrating in force, with the groundbreaking victory of Charles Pugh, the embattled city’s first openly gay and black city council president.
Over five years ago, Pugh publicly announced his sexuality on-air. Pugh says he always had the support of his bosses, but Detroit residents were initially shocked, as there had never been an openly gay black public figure in the blue-collar city’s history.
But as Pugh continued working as a news anchor and speaking publicly about LGBT issues, Detroiters rallied behind him.
“It was amazing to see how people treated me once I came out,” Pugh says. “No one gave me any grief or said anything derogatory. As I ran for city council I didn’t stop talking about who I was either. I talked about it in interviews, on television, on the radio. I mentioned it as often as possible.”
Pugh ran a smooth campaign until late October, when local media outlets reported that Pugh’s condominium was in foreclosure. Critics questioned whether his financial problems would prevent him form effectively handling Detroit’s current multimillion-dollar budget deficits. The city’s top two newspapers, The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, rescinded their endorsements of Pugh.
“There were some people who may have lost confidence because some people were not able to separate how I handle my personal finances from they way I would handle business finances,” Pugh says. “But, in the end, Detroiters had my back. In these dire economic times, people recognized that I was just like them. I became a real person.”
Already, Pugh has begun meeting with the current city council president and other members to discuss his plans for Detroit. “First, I want to have a better spirit of cooperation between council members, where we have civility at the table and a higher standard of ethics,” Pugh says. “I also plan to get a handle on how we spend our demolition dollars better. We are spending them all over the place. We have to get rid of the abandoned homes that are an eyesore in our city.”