Affirmations Silver Jubilee Tickets on Sale Now

Cass Varner joined Affirmations staff when it was still housed at the Frontier Building. She is currently working on a number of activities to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Center. File photo: Andrew Potter

What started as a helpline in a Detroit basement back in 1989, is now the largest LGBT community center in Michigan. Affirmations is getting ready to celebrate its 25th anniversary, kicking off a year of events with their Silver Jubilee on Saturday, April 5.
"The Silver Jubilee is both a theme for us this year and it sums up the celebration overall since it's our 25th year of service to the LGBT community," says Director of Development Angela Gabridge. "This is a yearlong celebration of thanks, and a way to invite more allies to be a part of the center."
As an ally, Gabridge had long been a donor to the center before coming to work there late last year. Yet she always felt unsure about coming to events at the center and fundraisers like their annual bash. The Silver Jubilee is a great opportunity for allies to have an introduction to what the center is all about. "Even if you don't know anybody, you want to be there you'll meet people and it will be fun. We need to make it clear that we want to see you and want to meet you," Gabridge said. "There's a staff member or table captain at each table. The table captains make it fun and make sure everyone is comfortable."
The formal event takes place at the recently renovated Cobo Center in downtown Detroit. Jazz music will play during the reception and after the meal there will be a DJ and a party atmosphere. There is also a silent auction, including 50-60 high end items, and a live auction during dinner.
Gabridge said visitors will be impressed with the new Cobo Center. "I thought it was going to be a box but it's not. There are majestic windows looking out over the river and Canada," she said. The decor is also very sleek and modern, with a clear nod to the automotive and other manufacturing industries.
As development director, Gabridge has only been with Affirmations for a few months, but her impressions of the organization's past, present and future are telling about the role it's played in the both the gay community and the ally community. "You always have a general sense that organizations like Affirmations don't spring up out of nowhere, but was created by the community and supported by the community. It continues to grow and change based on the needs and wants of the people involved. I think the communal effort is really cool."
As Affirmations prepares to launch an ally fundraising campaign, Gabridge notes they have always been a part of the center and the movement. "Carolyn Burdi has been involved 23 years, and she's an ally. Allies have been around from the beginning as well. We know it's a diverse community, but you don't know until you get into it what that means. Its lots of different people from different places, and that's what makes Affirmations unique. It's for everyone."
Cass Varner remembers the days when Affirmations was housed in an apartment building across the street from the current location. "I'm from up north but I had known that Affirmations was here when I was younger and when I was in college. When I first moved here I was excited to see it and be here because it was famous.
I immediately applied for the Youth Services Coordinator position. In the old building we had two spaces reserved for the youth, it wasn't really designed in a functional way, just places to hang out, dance, watch movies. Sometimes groups would be held, but back in that time they were really interested in coming to dance and hang out. On an average weekend we'd have 100 to 150 kids. When I first came to Affirmations the whole street was wig and nail shops and there wasn't much for kids to do. Affirmations gave them a safe place."
Youth programming has always been an important part of the Affirmations mission, and has grown by offering groups and activities for youths as well as for adults. Eventually the focus turned to creating a long-term home for the center.
"When we moved over we went through a few years of recession and cut backs," Varner said. "The youth program was cut back and nearly cut away, so the programming we used to offer was limited, and for a while we couldn't offer a lot. It's just now getting back to a place with two employees. We also have Cross the Line, a peer outrach program that created a theatre troupe to go to high schools and GSAs and let them know about the dangers of substance abuse. In January 150 kids came in to be part of that."
Affirmations now offers a variety of programs and events, including counseling, an art gallery, meeting spaces that are available to rent, youth groups, support groups, and an alternative high school.
The Silver Jubilee will be a chance to raise money for the future, but also to celebrate the past. Varner says presentations and displays will teach people history about the organization. "This being our 25th year, it's a bit of an exceptional situation. Being its 25th year there's going to be a display set up recognizing those 25 years so folks can go and see images, founding members, read about landmark things that happened and really take themselves back."
To learn more about the Silver Jubilee and to buy tickets, visit