The brightly colored bumper stickers were meant to spread a message of unity, with the words “We are Traverse City” and human figures on a rainbow background.
Instead, their short presence has revealed a deep divide in this resort town that would rather be known for its golf courses and Lake Michigan beaches.
When the rainbow design was revealed in December with plans to paste it on police cars, firetrucks and other city vehicles, gay rights groups quickly praised the city. But critics were in an uproar, saying the rainbow is a symbol of gay rights.
Rather than continue to fight, the City Commission voted this week to sell the remaining stickers to a local advocacy group and wash their hands of what one commissioner labeled a “nightmare.”
“The situation has gone awry,” Commissioner Jim Tompkins said.
City offices were deluged by angry letters after launching the rainbow sticker, and the American Family Assn., a conservative Christian group, said the city was endorsing homosexuality. Within a month, the city manager had ordered the stickers removed from city vehicles.
Traverse City will recoup about half the $1,800 it cost to print the stickers. The group buying the stickers, Hate-Free TC, plans to make them available to the public.
Gay rights advocates say the stickers are only the most visible element of a larger clash about homosexuality in Traverse City, a town of 15,000 about 250 miles northwest of Detroit.
“The sticker didn’t cause any division,” said Bryan Siddall, 21, who is gay. “It uncovered it.”
The group Traverse City Citizens Voting Yes for Equal Rights Not Special Rights is seeking a referendum this fall on a city charter amendment that would prohibit the commission from approving gay rights measures.
A conservative legal foundation threatened to sue after the city’s Human Rights Commission requested an investigation of a police officer who complained about having the rainbow sticker on his squad car.