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Movement Building: Community Center Network Connects Across Michigan

By |2018-01-16T09:38:08-05:00January 24th, 2013|Michigan, News|

Executive Directors Dave Garcia and Zach Bauer at the beginning of Hunger For Equality Strike this fall. BTL photo: Andrew Potter

With an eye towards progress and cooperation, LGBT community centers across the state came together in 2012 to form the Community Center Network. In addition to providing services for their local communities, the seven centers serve as spokes in a wheel of information and organizing that leaders hope will drive collective action and bring change.
In 2012 the biggest accomplishment was coming together and committing to the cooperation required to create change. With regular meetings and phone calls, they’ve been able to devise a plan for 2013, and held two successful events.
Their first big action, and really the official start of the collaboration, was on Jan. 18, 2012 when leaders from all the community centers encouraged participants to come to Lansing for a Gay Families Matter Rally. Over 175 people attended, with bullhorns and protest signs letting legislators know that they are sick of the hateful legislation geared toward them. The removal of domestic partner benefits was a tipping point, although other bigotry has included “conscience clause” legislation that legalizes discrimination, and proposed legislation that would have removed cities’ rights to make local nondiscrimination ordinances that now over 20 municipalities have in place.
Curtis Lipscomb, Executive Director of KICK, was especially proud of the crowd on the Capitol steps. “The most exciting part of the CCN was the rally that occurred last January. I thought that was quite important for our first showing,” he said.
Perceptions of Saginaw Valley came with a packed 15 passenger van to lobby in Lansing. “We’re transitioning from a community group to a community center, and I’m excited to collaborate and learn from the other community centers,” said board member Tim Atkenson.
Later in the year, as the elections approached, the Community Center Network members joined together for the 100 Day Hungry 4 Equality Strike. This statewide movement was headquartered at Affirmations in Ferndale, but people from the other community centers came on various days to take part. Executive directors and other leaders took on 24 hours of not eating in the relay-style hunger strike. There were also other events and information tables at the other centers to bring attention to the obstacles LGBT people in Michigan face. The strike attracted media attention and showed that grass-roots level organization is possible. “It took a lot of work to make sure we had 100-200 people on that stage, but it really brought people together,” said Affirmation’s director of programming Johnny Jenkins.
Moving forward it’s all about staying organized, with the realization that each of the community centers has a base of volunteers and activists that can be mobilized for larger collective action. “It’s important for us to all know what each other is doing,” said Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center executive director Zach Bauer. “This is a state voice opportunity.”
Rosemary Linares, secretary of Detroit Latinos, agreed. “This year we (Detroit Latinos) accomplished getting two spaces and a strategic plan. Working together we’re really building that infrastructure to have a statewide voice.”
“I think the simple fact that all of the state’s LGBT community centers have joined together to work on the challenges that face us in a focused and deliberate way is most important,” said Affirmations executive director Dave Garcia. “In 2013 we have to continue to strengthen cooperation and communication amongst all of the LGBT community centers and our allied organizations such as the ACLU and Equality Michigan … 2013 will also be an important year politically as we gear up for the 2014 elections. The community centers play a key role in communicating the issues throughout their local communities and around the state.”
In addition to collaborating for communication and activism, members of the CCN hope for more social interaction as well. Plans are in the works for a Shore to Shore biking event in September for example.

Gay Family Matters rally in January, 2012 was the first action the Community Center Network created and promoted. Photo courtesy of Affirmations.

For individuals who would like to be part of the growing movement, connecting with their local community center is a great place to start. The overall mission of the Community Center Network is to “improve the quality of life for Michigan’s LGBT community and our allies by promoting equality, building capacity, and fostering new leaders across the state.”

Affirmations – Ferndale

With seven full time staff members, five part timers, and a million dollar budget, Affirmations is the largest community center in Michigan. Programming includes culture and society, health and wellness, advocacy, social and recreational, growth and development and collaborations and partnerships with other community organizations. There are various social and support groups that use the center’s meeting rooms, plus there is a youth area, a library, a cafe and an art gallery.
In 2012, they completed their intensive strategic planning process, as well as unveiled their “Blueprint for Change” from their Multicultural Advisory Committee. Director of communications Cass Varner said, “One of Affirmations’ biggest goals beginning in 2013 will be to incorporate the blueprint’s recommendations for becoming a model for racial and ethnic diversity and inclusion.”
Affirmations has its largest annual fundraising event Sat. April 13, The Spring Bash at the Westin Book Cadillac in Detroit.
Affirmations is located at 290 W. 9 Mile Road in Ferndale, and their website is

Detroit [email protected] – Detroit and Ferndale

Detroit [email protected]s grew quite a bit in 2012, establishing their headquarters in the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation and a satellite office inside Affirmations. They partnered with the University of Michigan School of Public Health’s Sexuality and Health Lab on the United for HIV Integration and Policy project, a community-based participatory research project in southeast Michigan, received foundational support from the Arcus Foundation and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan HOPE Fund, and hosted their first annual Detroit [email protected] Open House.
With an all-volunteer board and a $60,000 budget, Detroit Latinos is currently working to develop programing that will serve the needs of people in the Detroit Latino/a community. The name “[email protected]” represents the masculine and feminine tense of the ethnic classification term Latino/a. “We have been negotiating our support of a project called DETROIT REPRESENT! with a mission to inspire and support community organizing efforts lead by LGBTQ youth of color from Detroit to create a revolutionary media alternative that authentically portrays our communities, our lives, and ourselves,” said secretary Linares.
They are actively looking to grow their board and their volunteer base.
The best way to find information and to contact Detroit [email protected] is through their Facebook page at

Jim Toy Community Center – Ann Arbor

The Jim Toy Community Center is located at 319 Braun Ct. in Ann Arbor and has a mission “to provide information, education, social events, and advocacy by and for the Queer and Ally community in the Washtenaw County area.” A dozen LGBT groups call the Jim Toy Community Center home, including the Wild Wednesdays queer youth group.
In 2012, the Jim Toy Community Center sponsored three major social events: the annual Gay Pride Picnic, a Pride Dinner with CNN’s LZ Granderson, and OutFest – a fixture in the LGBT life of Southeast Michigan. Their get out the vote efforts helped mobilize voters and volunteers in the Ann Arbor area. Their budget is $44,000 and their board and staff are all-volunteer.
Looking ahead to 2013, Past President Terence McGinn said, “We hope to follow up on our 2012 political successes by working with CCN to identify LGBT individuals who should be cultivated to run for office in the future. We are woefully underrepresented among elected official throughout the state of Michigan. We will work with the other centers to facilitate more partisan efforts, and perhaps eventually a PAC. In Washtenaw County, we hope to add a new signature fundraising golf event and to increase out educational offerings.”
To learn more about the Jim Toy Community Center, visit

Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center – Kalamazoo

Located at 629 Pioneer Street, The Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center offers programs and services for the LGBT community. With a three-person staff, plus the help of many volunteers, the center provides support Monday through Friday and a host of programs, all while sticking to a $375,000 budget.
Among the programs are the David Bonhett Cyber Center, Pride NA, Proud Families Support Group, Triangle Youth Mentorship Program, Youth Group, LGBT Professionals’ Network, and the Kalamazoo Faith Alliance. Moving forward KGLRC plans to develop a relationship with the Kalamazoo Area Agency on Aging to improve services for LGBT seniors.
The Kalamazoo Gay Lesbian Resource Center also puts on Kalamazoo Pride, The Winter Gala, and a Welcome Back Picnic for area college students.
The Center began as a grassroots community group over 25 years ago. To learn more visit their website at

KICK- Detroit

KICK, the agency for LGBT African Americans had a busy year in 2012. Members started an academy to foster leadership training, acquired and managed the annual Hotter than July celebration, hired a full time development director and part time program and project coordinators, and was recognized by President Barack Obama on two visits to the White House. Three members of the Young Adult Board of Advisors were recognized as “Emerging Leaders” by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife. KICK also revised and adopted a new programmatic strategy to address issues surrounding employment, health, education, social justice and equality.
Programs include their well-attended Talk Tuesdays discussion group, education and health expos, Woman 2 Woman monthly group, career development workshops and case management services with a focus on educational, housing, employment and health-related challenges.
With a budget of $459,278, there are two full time staffers and two part time staffers working in an office just off Woodward Avenue at 41 Burroughs Street.
According to Executive Director Lipscomb, the 2013 goals are to strengthen the overall health and well-being of our community, provide leadership to the community by modeling civic engagement and community building, and to strengthen the community through identification and engagement activities. Upcoming activities include the Educational & Advocacy Exhibition on Feb. 23 and the Tea Party quarterly fundraiser on Feb. 16.
For more information and details, visit

The Network – Grand Rapids

The Network is located at 343 Atlas Ave SE in Grand Rapids, a 3,000 s.f. space for the LGBTQ community to enjoy their library, meetings and conference rooms, and computers. They provide a variety of referrals to gay-friendly doctors, lawyers and other businesses. There is one paid staffer who is there to answer phones, edit The Network News, write grants, greet people, answer questions, and oversee volunteers and interns.
“We plan to build community coalitions by making our Network News better, keeping our webpage updated and fun, and by working together with HIV agencies and GLSEN,” said office manager Christina Wade.
“We also plan on board development. By this we plan on to increase funding by writing grants and holding fundraising events, by growing our board of directors, and getting corporate sponsors.
In spring 2013 The Network will host a Wine and Cheese event at the center, and in December will be the annual Saving One Life gala event.
More information can be found on their website at

Perceptions- Midland

Perceptions celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2012, starting the year with an Open House in their first dedicated facility (rather than meeting in churches, libraries, etc.), and hosting several successful outreach and social events. The Saginaw Valley Pride Awards recognized local individual’s contributions to LGBT equality.
Their speaker series covered 8 various topics, and their holiday party had over 200 attendees. Senator Carl Levin and Senator Debbie Stabenow recognized Perceptions with video tributes for their grand party.
With a donated space and a $30,000 budget, the all-volunteer grassroots organization continues to grow each year. The group now meets at The Alderton Building (2nd floor), 301 Cass St for board meetings and special events. Their target cities are Bay City, Saginaw and Midland.
Coming up are the Valentines Dance on Feb. 9 and a Chocolate Party fundraiser in conjunction with PFLAG Tri-Cities at Castle Museum on March 16.
To learn more about Perceptions Saginaw Valley, visit their website

Other community centers

Other community groups and centers may get involved in the CCN, including Algemea, 3ci in Battle Creek, Out Center in Benton Harbor and Jackson Together. CCN also works with organizations like the ACLU, Equality Michigan, Unity Michigan, university LGBT groups and centers and LGBT media such as Between The Lines.

About the Author:

Crystal Proxmire is the editor and publisher of The Oakland County Times. She loves covering municipal governance and cheering on community efforts.
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