Going Beyond Gay-Friendly

LGBT_Ferndale_ForumWhen Downtown Ferndale (Michigan) started on the road to revitalization, embracing our diversity, thinking creatively, and even owning up to some of our faults as a downtown – too many dilapidated buildings, a lack of an exciting market-driven business base and activities – showed Metro Detroit that we were humble, but trying really hard to make positive change. It grabbed people's attention. Our can-do attitude came from the bellies of those who have faced adversity in the past, but have never let that stop them. A significant base of support came from Downtown Ferndale's well-known lesbian, gay bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

People always ask me how our downtown was transformed from a once-forgotten and down-on-its-luck place to the open, creative enclave of Metro Detroit that it is today. I tell them that it's not just one thing; it is the Main Street approach. To reach this level of success, Downtown Ferndale effectively empowered diverse groups of people, letting them be who they are and engaging them in the process of shaping our downtown. In fact, Downtown Ferndale has been so successful that the National Trust Main Street Center recognized us this year for being a revitalization role model through a Great American Main Street Award.

It's been proven in other communities across the U.S. that the LGBT community has a significant impact on the economic development and revitalization of cities and downtowns. Ferndale is simply another shining example of that statistic. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and embrace the richness that diversity brings. In other words, let your community out of the closet.

You'll find in Downtown Ferndale a high percentage of LGBT-owned businesses; however, only a handful of the 400 businesses cater to the LGBT crowd, such as:  Affirmations, a nonprofit organization and community center; Just 4 Us, a retail store and coffeehouse; and two bars/nightclubs, Club 9 and SOHO. Some businesses that are generally considered mass-market businesses embrace the LGBT market by hosting girls' nights out or guys' nights out throughout the year, but all businesses are gay-friendly, and most don't care who or what you are as long as you're a buying customer. All U.S. dollars are accepted here (even some Canadian too, eh?).

LGBT_Ferndale_Just4UsThe LGBT community is not just integrated into our community; they are integral to our community. They take pride in ownership of their homes, businesses, neighborhood, downtown, and community-at-large. Many LGBT business owners and residents are involved in local politics as well as with local community organizations such as Ferndale Youth Assistance and our new free healthcare clinic FernCare. Many LGBT members of our community serve on the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority's (DDA/Main Street Program) Board of Directors and committees. The LGBT community is involved at every level of community activism. This is where I see the difference between communities that are gay-friendly and those like Ferndale that show gay pride 365 days per year. We have shed our shells, blinders, and labels so we can open our hearts and minds to the endless possibilities of working as a single, harmonious community.

Now don't get me wrong, we are not all singing "Kumbaya" in unison here. Our community still tends to disagree on political issues or how best to reach a common goal, but those two words, "common goal," are the key to the solution, finding that common goal which bonds all members of the community. It is safe and common practice to show your rainbow colors in Downtown Ferndale, and we are proud to do so. The rainbow flag doesn't outshine any other; it is a pattern woven into the fabric of our community – a pattern that symbolizes our varying strengths, opinions, and perspectives.

We are not perfect by any means; there are still culture clashes here and there, but it gives us something to work on. As I've said before, Downtown Ferndale has been an open book on the good, the bad, and the ugly, and we're not shutting that novel, just turning a chapter. So as we turn down the lights on Gay Pride Month, remember how to keep the lights on throughout the year by being inclusive with all you do, by empowering those around you, and engaging the LGBT community in stewarding your downtown.

To read more about Gay Pride month and Preservation, go to http://www.mainstreet.org/issues/diversity/lgbt-heritage-in-preservation/.