by Jessica Carreras
For Tom Delaney, the choice between leaving Michigan and sticking it out was obvious. “Why would I want to live anywhere else than southeast Michigan?” he says incredulously. It’s a big statement coming from someone like him. Delaney sells and rents real estate in an area where houses can’t be given away. He grew up in Dearborn, a suburb that has been beaten mercilessly by the poor economy. Moreover, he is a gay man in a state that forbids him basic partnership rights.
But still, Delaney is optimistic – a rarity among mitten dwellers.
Offhand, he could name a dozen reasons why Michigan is the place he will always call home, from the lower cost of living to the fact that all of his friends and family are here. His business and home are here as well. “Grow where you are planted,” he says, quoting a phrase he learned from gay author and activist Armistead Maupin.
For Delaney and others, that mentality has fueled their every move. And, despite the bleakness of the city of Detroit, some believe that the Motor City is where people – including the gay community – can grow and thrive the most.
And thrive in Detroit is just what Ann Perrault and Jackie Victor did. Their bakery, Avalon International Breads, has prospered for over a decade at its location in the city’s Cass Corridor. Setting up shop in Royal Oak, Ferndale or other gay-centric areas was never an option for the couple, who are both native Michiganders. “We’re two women who are interested in being more connected to a larger, more diverse community – and also being involved in an underserved community,” says Perrault. “That was one of our missions.”
Mission accomplished. The Detroit-based women live with their children just a few blocks from their bakery, which is recognized as being not only a breakfast and lunch mainstay around southeast Michigan, but also as a wonderful place to work by local residents. “Most of our employees live in the city,” Perrault boasts. “We’re very adamant about making sure that we look at the fact that when you hire, you have a choice of who you hire.”
For them, that choice meant a diverse workforce in race, ethnicity and background – all of whom are paid well over minimum wage.
The one thing Perrault and Victor wish for is a stronger gay community in the city, something Delaney believes in as well. “We really had no choice but to leave,” Delaney recalls of Michigan’s gay community of the past. “Your straight family would not support you.”
Nineteen years ago, when it opened, Delaney’s apartment complex in Royal Oak boasted two large pride flags in its front windows, letting prospective renters know that it was a safe place to live. Back then, as many as 80 percent of his residents were LGBT. In recent years, the number has reached as low as 20 to 40 percent and has included some transgender renters.
Still, he hopes that young gays and lesbians will consider moving to downtown Detroit, where lofts and condominiums are cheap and financial cutbacks are plentiful, including tax write offs and lower interest rates.
Perrault and Victor have owned their Detroit home since 1999, and Perrault remembers a time when gay men created a rich community in certain parts of the city, such as Woodridge and Indian Village. Though many LGBT people think that Detroit will be less accepting of their sexuality, Perrault says that there is no place she’d rather live. “Here in the city, it is very open,” she says. “For us living here, we wish there were more gay people for our kids to see.”
That wish, however, won’t convince them to move to an area with a larger gay community – inside or out of the state of Michigan. “We got pressure right from the start from family and friends,” she says of leaving Detroit. “Opening up somewhere else would have meant (earning) a couple thousand extra a day.”
But nothing, be it family pressure or extra income, could make them leave the city, Perrault insists. “Our commitment is here.”