Group’s talk zeros in on early LGBT battles

By |2018-01-16T16:17:25-05:00June 29th, 2006|News|

BY SHARON GITTLEMAN

FERNDALE – LGBT activism didn’t begin with New York’s Stonewall confrontation in 1969.
In the 1950s, Michigan gays took their first steps to standing up for their rights when they founded a local chapter of the Mattachine Society.
Other activist groups soon followed, from ONE in Detroit to the Detroit Gay Liberation Front.
That was just part of the story told by Tim Retzloff, when he was the guest speaker at a meeting of the Gay Connection of Detroit last week.
Retzloff read a chapter of his thesis detailing gay and lesbian life in metro-Detroit in the decades from the 1950s-70s, to the nearly three-dozen men gathered for the event.
Gay activists in the 1950s, faced dangers unheard of today, he said.
“Being out meant something different,” said Retzloff. “Being gay could land you in jail, make you lose your job and have you be ostracized.”
Retzloff said he was surprised when his research revealed the role religion has played in gay activism.
“Organizing around faith had deep meaning for Detroit LGBT leaders,” he said.
That’s one message meeting attendee Ken Collinson understands.
Collinson said he’s active in a group called, “That All May Freely Serve,” a mission project devoted to helping LGBT people gain the chance to become ordained as deacons, elders and pastors in the Presbyterian Church.
“We’re working toward equality,” he said.
Collinson wasn’t surprised to see many of the older men at the Gay Connection gathering refused to speak to BTL about LGBT issues.
“When we were young, things were different,” said Collinson. “Things were a little scarier. Homosexuality was something not talked about.”
Instilling gay pride isn’t a simple process, said Howard Baver, a straight psychotherapist who founded the Gay Connection in 1985.
“Self-esteem is a mental picture you have about yourself and how you feel about yourself,” he said. “You have to do some soul-searching and self-acceptance.”
There’s a big difference between the world his gay patients had to deal with in the mid-80s and today’s scene, he said.
“The religious people have greater acceptance of gay people,” said Baver.
Today’s LGBT community also has social options gays and lesbians didn’t enjoy in days gone by.
Baver said he founded the Gay Connection after his patients told him they had no place to meet each other – except in bars.
The group hosts programs encouraging attendees to socialize and discuss issues the LGBT community faces.
Members get together for dinner and a lecture by guest speakers, like Retzloff, followed by question and answer sessions.
Gay Connection Program Chair Tom Zerafa said he chose Retzloff as his group’s June speaker to encourage members’ sense of dignity and self-respect during Gay Pride Month.
The Gay Connection meets at 6:30 p.m., on the third Tuesday of each month at Angel’s Cafe, located at 214 W. Nine Mile Road in Ferndale. For more information, you can visit the group’s web page at http://www.tgcdetroit.org.

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Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.