Out & Equal Staffer Chris Huqueriza interviews James Felton Keith, a member of the Mayor of Detroit’s rejuvenation team.
Detroit is ready for a comeback. After decades of dealing with poverty and bankruptcy issues, the city is looking to return to prosperity. For Detroit native James Felton Keith, one answer is a more visible LGBT community.
In other struggling cities, LGBT populations are known for moving into and improving long-ignored areas. Keith sees the same potential in Detroit, especially in the workplace.
“Detroit needs to establish a presence of LGBT professionals to grow and thrive,” Keith said.
But there are obstacles. Same-sex marriage is still banned in Michigan. It’s also one of the 32 states where workers can be fired because of their sexual orientation or identity.
It’s why Keith initially abandoned his hometown, like many of Detroit’s LGBT natives.
“Detroit has a place in my heart, it’s where I was born and raised,” Keith, 32, said. “But it was not a place where I could thrive as a person.”
He left Detroit in 1999 to travel and work in different parts of the world: Israel, South Africa, China, New York, Alabama, Georgia, and Connecticut.
But now, he’s giving Detroit a second chance because he sees a turning point in both Detroit’s economy and the city’s willingness to accept LGBT people.
Today, Keith is an out bisexual man who has returned to Detroit as a mayoral appointee. Keith’s job at City Hall is to create a communication strategy for business development.
Keith also serves as the president of the Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce. And he wants to start an Out & Equal regional affiliate in Detroit.
Just since last year, Keith has rallied support from many of the major companies based or with a large presence in Michigan: General Motors, Delta Airlines, Chrysler, JCPenny’s, Chase Bank, Ford, Blue Cross, Morgan Stanley as well as the University of Michigan. Keith has also contacted several banks like Comerica Bank and Trust and PNC Bank.
“The banks are really interested,” Keith added. “They want to know how to work and build the community organically.”
Keith hopes to establish a relationship with businesses big and small to combat workplace discrimination by encouraging LGBT professionals to establish Employee Resource Groups.
Keith said now is the time for entrepreneurs to come to Detroit and for LGBT entrepreneurs to be out and open.
He noted that Detroit’s economy has been recovering and on the LGBT front, Detroit’s current mayor is one of the first to acknowledge that the LGBT community exists and is growing.
“This is the perfect opportunity in hopes of starting careers and businesses and rebuilding the economy,” said Keith.
Keith plans to attend the 2014 Out & Equal Workplace Summit on November 3 to 6 in San Francisco.
“It’s great opportunity,” said Keith, adding: “The value of Out & Equal is that it convenes like-minded individuals and provides a united voice to build workplace equality everywhere, especially in Detroit!”
Out & Equal supports a network of 19 volunteer led and run regional affiliates around the country. Starting an affiliate is a great way to advance workplace equality in your city or region.