The city council in Saginaw, Michigan, spent a few hours this week debating an ordinance that would have banned local businesses from firing or refusing to serve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people because of their sexuality or gender identity.
Supporters argued that the measure would benefit the local economy by sending friendly signals to LGBT entrepreneurs and, more generally, to young people, who overwhelmingly support gay rights, according to polls.
But that argument didn’t go over well with Councilman Dan Fitzpatrick, a 40-year resident. He said it reminded him of something admittedly very bad that happened 80 years ago. "In about 1933, there was a real big youth movement in Germany called the party of National Socialists,” he said. “A lot of people said, 'You know, I don't like them. I don't know. I don't understand. But man they're good for business.'"
Fitzpatrick isn't the first rhetorician to compare gays with Nazis. Last month, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said the vilification of people who oppose same-sex marriage is “exactly what we've seen throughout our history as going back to the days of the Nazi takeover in Europe."
Bryan Fischer, a radio host with the conservative advocacy group the American Family Association, has gone further.
According to Fischer’s imaginative reading of history, the Nazi party was actually made up of gay people. "Just as the homosexual stormtroopers for Hitler were to exterminate and eliminate the opposition and beat them into silence, that's what homosexual activists want to do today," Fischer said last year, in one of his many riffs on this theme.
Brandon Errer, a gay student at Saginaw Valley State University, said he and his friends in the city council meeting audience were "dumbfounded" by Fitzpatrick’s spin on the Nazi analogy.
"I've never been equated to a Nazi before," Errer said. "It was disheartening."
Earlier that night, Errer, 18, argued that passing the ordinance would encourage young people like himself to put down roots. By voting against the bill, the council risked “isolating a large generation that's ready to move into these cities," Errer said, according to a local report. "I hope that you think with your heart, but if you have to, please think with your wallet."
The council rejected the ordinance, 9-0.
Fitzpatrick didn’t respond to a call or email from The Huffington Post requesting comment. Another council member, Michael Balls, said at the meeting that he saw no need for the bill. “I don't think we have that much discrimination in Saginaw,” he said.
Char Inmi, a 58-year-old transgender woman who was at the meeting, said she has twice been fired for being transgender by businesses in other counties. She said she wasn't surprised there was not an extensive record of discrimination in Saginaw. "There's no record because it's not against the law. There is no discrimination, technically, legally, so there is no recourse," she said.
Saginaw isn’t a thriving town. Annie Boensch, the councilwoman who sponsored the ordinance, called it “one of those cities that's been hit the hardest by the loss of the manufacturing industry.”
“We need people,” Boensch said. “We need good people who are contributing to this city and if you look around and you look around who’s developing the city, building and renovating commercial properties, they're gay.”
One odd footnote to the episode is the fact that it was Fitzpatrick who brought the measure to a vote this week, even though the council had already voted against the same measure a few weeks earlier.
Fitzpatrick said he wanted the ordinance to be “permanently" killed this time around, according to the local news.
Boensch pointed out that no city council decisions are permanent, and noted that she didn't vote for it this time because she intends to file another version in the future. “I will absolutely bring this back," she said.