Pam Cuthbert, Michigan, 1993
Pamela Ann (Pam) Cuthbert
Born September 5, 1945
City Council, Ward 3
Elected April 1993
Re-elected 1995, 1997
Essay by Pam Cuthbert for Out and Elected in the USA
I was born and raised in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I attended Ypsilanti schools, earned my BS from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, and my MSW from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Both of my parents were very civic minded. My father served on the School Board and my mother did volunteer work with the Girl Scouts, various civic clubs and our church. My sister and I were raised to respect the diversity within us all and to acknowledge our individual qualities. I followed in the footsteps of my parents at an early age and entered the world of public service by working with adolescents and families. By my 23rd birthday I had been a leader of five different Girl Scout Troops, directed summer camps, taught reading and math, and worked with emotionally disturbed children at a psychiatric hospital. Following a brief stint with “big business” I returned to the field of social services where I remain today.
In 1991 I was approached about running for elected office, something I had considered, however the timing never seemed right. Why not? Fear! What would be the response if it were learned that I was gay? What would this do to my family, my career, my feeling of safety in my community? After many hours of soul searching, discussions with my family and those who had drafted me to run, I agreed. Although I lost my first race, my fears were unfounded. NOTHING HAPPENED! Our community’s interest lay with the issues and not with my personal life. What a relief.
In 1992, I was approached to run again. This time there was no hesitation. I announced my intent just prior to Christmas and began campaigning for a February primary in January 1993. And, as in the first race, the issues were the topic. I won and took my seat at the Council table in April.
I was now the Executive Director of a private non-profit Human Service agency in Detroit and my political career and my personal life were moving along smoothly. Then, on a typical fall day in 1996, I received a call that was about to change my life.
Several students representing a group of gay and lesbian social work students had attempted to get raffle tickets printed at a local print shop. After accepting the job the owners called the students to inform them that their religious beliefs would not allow them to encourage or participate in the perceived acceptance of homosexuality, and they refused to print the tickets. That got things started.
Following nearly two years of public hearings and public commentary at city council meetings we, as a united council, voted to go forward with the drafting of a Human Rights Ordinance. It was to include, but not be limited to, sexual orientation. I chaired a committee that spent several weeks researching language from other communities across the nation, and then we carefully drafted the ordinance.
During a council meeting in December, 1997, we unanimously passed the Ypsilanti Anti-Discrimination Ordinance making us one of very few communities in the state or nation to include sexual orientation as a protected classification. By January, a group calling themselves Citizen’s Opposed to Special Treatment, or C.O.S.T., had secured enough voter’s signatures to place the ordinance in abeyance pending the outcome of a vote of the people scheduled for May.
Following many hours of committed efforts from a small group of dedicated workers and huge support from well wishers, including Mrs. Coretta Scott King and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and with opposition from the likes of Reggie White and other Religious Right proponents, Election Day arrived. By midnight May 5, 1998, Ypsilanti voters had declared – by a margin of 2 to 1 – that there would be NO discrimination in Ypsilanti. But, my ability to savor the victory was short-lived. I was facing a primary election in August for the right to represent my Ward and the city for another four years. We worked very hard to fend off the silent backlash, but I lost.
It’s been two years since our Anti-Discrimination Ordinance was enacted by popular vote of the people and I am proud to say we have had no problems as was feared by those who opposed us. I, on the other hand, have taken this time to rest, become introspective, and to recommit myself to the political process. Although I do not have any immediate plans to run for public office I entertain the thought daily. And the many well wishers and supporters who always encourage me keep the flame glowing.