By Brent Dorian Carpenter
Don’t be fooled by Kirsten Ussery’s babyface or diminutive size – she is shaping up to be a major player in Detroit’s black LGBT community.
The 26-year old transplant from Hickory, North Carolina holds in her possession a Master’s Degree in Education from Wayne State University, is active with the women’s group SPICE, is deeply involved in launching a black gay political action committee with DBG Pride, Inc., and was an instrumental voice in the historic Detroit NOISE protest against the Detroit Public Schools Systems’ gay-unfriendly policies.
“I was a senior at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and was asked to speak to a freshman group about being young and gay,” said Ussery. “This was the first time I had spoken publicly about being a lesbian. It was a very positive experience. Many of the young people in the group I spoke to would speak to me on campus. They would look for the rainbow sticker on my car when I drove through campus to know it was me. I realized that just by speaking up and being open about who I am, I could inspire others to have courage to be proud of themselves, whoever they are.”
Creating a safe environment for lesbians is the theme that unites the various elements of her activism. In April 2003, she took up a microphone across the street from the former Schools Center Building to let DPS CEO Kenneth Burnley and his administrators know they could not hide from their legal and moral responsibilities to the city’s LGBT student population.
“I was part of Detroit NOISE, the group that protested Detroit Public Schools in an effort to get the schools to provide support for LGBT students who wanted GSAs and who were being harassed at school because of their affectional orientation,” she said.
Ussery’s warmest regards revolve around her participation with SPICE, an organization she describes as very fulfilling.
“I still have women who thank me for the email SPICE sends out each week informing them of what’s going on the community, or calling me to find out when SPICE is meeting because they really need an outlet,” she said. “Even though I may not have been the one to send the out the email each week, it lets me know what a positive impact that SPICE has when people thank me for it. Sometimes women call me who may not be ‘out’ or they may be married and they heard about SPICE and somehow got my number. They are coming to terms with their sexuality and they heard SPICE is a safe space, an outlet for women to meet each other and talk about what we go through everyday as lesbians of color. That type of positive impact is powerful.”
And needed more than ever, she emphasizes, following the dismal 2004 presidential election.
“The election results reinforced my thinking that I have to take care of myself and my family,” said Ussery. “I can’t depend on legislation to do it. We have someone in office that doesn’t care about us at all. We have to pay close attention to the news, start researching issues on our own, and do everything we can legally, despite the limitations, to protect our families. Job security is already low, so I realize I need to find ways to sustain myself without having to depend on a corporation for my survival.”
Ussery is currently employed as a Public Relations Specialist at Yazaki North America Inc., a Japanese automotive supplier to the Big Three auto firms.
“Professionally, I would like to own my own PR firm one day servicing small business and non-profits, specifically in the gay community.”
In her spare time, Ussery said she likes to read, write poetry and, “I’m getting back into drawing which is a natural talent that I hadn’t used in a while. A message that has been repeated in my life lately is that we must all use the talents god gave us to help others. When we use the talents we were given and give to others, we will be blessed.”