July 22 2013 12:00 AM

City Council and administration will work together on St. Petersburg situation


Monday, July 22 — Lansing City Councilwoman Jody Washington said tonight she will collaborate with Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and the rest of the Council on a unified message against the anti-gay laws in St. Petersburg, Russia, a Sister City.

At the Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Washington said she and Bernero met earlier in the day to discuss the city's relationship with St. Petersburg. She and the mayor were at odds last week, when Washington said she would seek to introduce a resolution tonight to end Lansing’s relationship with St. Petersburg. Bernero urged a more measured response.

Washington said tonight she will introduce a resolution that would present a “unified voice” from the city condemning St. Petersburg for its treatment of the LGBT community. She said it would include a timeline for change before the Sister City relationship would be dissolved.

“We need to do the diplomatic process, but to me it’s critically important that we start that dialog,” Washington said. “We start that process, and if it comes to severing, then we sever.

“I think we have a unique opportunity at this time to go forward in a unified voice and say we do not tolerate this,” she said. “If nothing else, we need to stand strong and make that statement because there are a lot of people looking at us.”

Lansing's Chief Financial Officer Chad Gamble read a statement from Bernero that the City Council and Sister City Commission should issue resolutions condemning what's happening, but also said the relationship should be kept open because of the "potential for progressive dialog."

During public comment, Lansing resident Todd Heywood said he was speaking for the statewide LGBT publication Between the Lines in reading from an editorial that he said will be published on Tuesday. He read:

"St. Petersburg can either renounce its involvement in widespread human rights abuses of her LGBT citizens and the two cities can work together to grow as friends; or St. Petersburg can continue to side with nationalists and neo-Nazis allowing the violent repression of LGBT people, and Lansing will end its relationship with the Russian city.”

Area resident Roman Collins, who started a Facebook page titled "Sever ties with St. Petersburg," also spoke during public comment.

"Tonight the world watches Lansing as we discuss the potential to be the first city in the nation to sever its ties with St. Petersburg," he said. "If we decide to tolerate the abuses that have been dealt by their oppressors, what message are we sending to LGBT youth in the United States?"