FERNDALE – The importance of LGBT community centers can sometimes be taken for granted, but the center partners and other donors who keep Affirmations Community Center doors open seem to ‘get it.’ So does award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black who visited the center on Oct 12 for a tour and a reception.
Black, best known for writing the screenplay Milk and other LGBT themed projects, was in Michigan doing speeches at U of M Dearborn and Oakland University. The multi-talented 39-year-old spends part of his year making movies and the other part traveling the country doing activism work.
“I do a spring and fall tour, but I only say yes to certain states,” he said. “Michigan is a state I know the world is watching…Michigan is on the brink, and we need to get things in place like employment nondiscrimination, so that when marriage comes it will be safe for people to come out.” He added that Michigan is special because he had a gay older brother who moved here. “He lived and struggled here, and ultimately passed away here,” Black said.
The fiery speeches at the college campuses helped rally the masses last week, yet the intimate gathering at Affirmations Community Center gave Black a chance to share a story he’s never told publically before. Feeling warm and sentimental from a special punch that was donated by The Oakland in Ferndale, Black told the room of donors, “When I was 19 or 20 years old, in college at UCLA, I came from Texas, I came from a Mormon family. It was very, very conservative. And as I was slowly coming out to friends, it actually wasn’t getting easier. It was getting a little harder because there was this openness I had in LA that I couldn’t bring home. And I was very close with my family. And I was very afraid of rejection. Some of that rejection was very real and some of it was imagined. I didn’t quite know how to make sense of it. I got very, very depressed. I started to kind of shut down. I wasn’t doing so well in school.
“And I went to a community center in Los Angles, much like this. They started to talk with me, and for free because I didn’t have any money. They hooked me up with a counselor who started to talk with me about being gay. And what it meant and how to find my voice. By just being there, and being the strength for me when I did come out to my family.
“And I’ll tell ya, because of a community center like this, I was able to come out. I was able to find the strength, to find my voice. I don’t know what I would have done without that strength, but I certainly wouldn’t have started making gay and lesbian themed projects, like the Pedro’s and Moore story, like Milk. I certainly wouldn’t have had the strength to sue the state of California in federal court to bring marriage equality to the state of California had it not been for a community center like this…
“And most importantly about that story is it’s not unique to me. You know, the self-worth and self-confidence, the sense of community and pride that a place like this gives, not just to young people but to all people, I think we cannot underestimate the amount of change that has come, that has its foundation in organizations like this. So thank you so much for being strong enough and for being generous enough to keep a place like this going.”
Affirmations Executive Director Dave Garcia also thanked the donors, sharing with them some of what their contributions go to fund.
“Your community center doesn’t just do advocacy,” he said. “When we’re sitting in a room where we have Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Narcotics Anonymous and the LGBT seniors meet next door, and I could go on and on about our mental health programs which we can now build, and bill those services, and the kids that call and are being bullied that call our front desk and get help. From cradle to grave your community center gives programs that are very, very important. And this organization has been around – in January – 25 years. A lot of you in this room were part of the center when it was down the street. Some of you were a part of it when it was just a helpline in someone’s basement. So welcome.”
Among those visiting the center, was Miranda Divozzo of Oakland University. She helped book Black for his speaking engagements in Michigan. “I brought my parents with me,” she said of the OU talk. “My grandparents are very Edith and Archie Bunker. Even though my parents are very accepting, there’s something about having someone right in front of you that makes it more personal.” She was impressed with the way Black told his coming out story and shared ways that students could take the initiative on their own campuses.
For more on Affirmations, visit http://www.goaffirmations.org.