DETROIT – The 20th installment of Hotter Than July — Detroit Black Gay Pride — will take place next week.
Kevin Griffin, Johnny Jenkins and Curtis Lipscomb founded Detroit Black Gay, Inc. in 1995 to produce the event. They called upon the groups Men of Color, who hosted an annual picnic, and the Billionaire Boys’ Club, who hosted an annual brunch, and asked them to help produce the first HTJ in 1996.
“We asked the leaders how they felt about hosting their events during this one week we called Hotter Than July and they agreed to anchor it,” said Lipscomb. “They put aside their egos to be a part of something greater.”
The first HTJ featured an opening candlelight vigil, a conference, a picnic in Palmer Park and the brunch – four events that have continued uninterrupted for two decades. “Our programming has been unique and diverse since day one,” said Lipscomb. “Though some activities have come and gone, we know the tastes of the community have changed. It’s been 20 years. It can’t be the same.”
As HTJ swiftly grew, there were soon more events to attend than there were days of the week. The BBC added anniversary parties to the mix, the Ken Collier Memorial Fund threw an annual White Party, Strongarm Productions always hosted something hot and women’s events were plentiful thanks to groups like the A. Lorde Collective, Ladies of a Current Affair and Pink Ice Productions. But times have changed. There are far fewer social clubs in the community now and, actually, far fewer nightclubs that are either black owned or cater to a black gay crowd. By 2011, Detroit Black Gay, Inc., now called the Black Pride Society, was struggling and having difficulty keeping the community engaged. So they looked to one of its founders for help. Lipscomb is executive director of LGBT Detroit (formerly Kick – The Agency for LGBT African Americans), which began producing a more streamlined HTJ in 2012 with key staffers and volunteers in charge of specific events.
The Week At A Glance
This year’s HTJ starts as always with the candlelight vigil in Palmer Park on Tuesday. Speaking at this year’s vigil will be controversial Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones. A highlight of this event will be the installation of a memorial plaque in the park made of stone and bronze. The plaque will be installed at the blue spruce memorial tree in recognition of community members who are no longer living.
The annual boat cruise along the Detroit River was scheduled for Wednesday but has been canceled due to slow ticket sales.
For the first time in a few years, an official HTJ opening party will take place. The theme of the party, which will take place at The Woodward, is “Wet & Wild.”
Thursday is the annual HTJ Film Festival. This event will feature the Detroit premiere of the documentary “Collective Voices: Wisdom of our African American Lesbian Elders.” The film is directed by Debraha Watson, who will attend the screening and take questions afterward. Also showing will be the musical classic “The Wiz” starring Diana Ross. The location for the festival is the Cass City Cinema, located at 3420 Cass Ave. in Detroit.
The Annual Gathering on LGBT Issues, which was for many years known at the Genesis Summit, will take place on Friday at the Michigan State University Detroit Center, which is located at 3408 Woodward Ave. in Midtown. Presenters include Noel Gordon, foundation project manager at the Human Rights Campaign; Marvell Terry, II, also of HRC; Lisa Whitmore Davis of AARP Michigan; and Phillip A. Simmons of Phillip A. Simmons & Associates. Rev. Roland Stringfellow of Metropolitan Community Church Detroit will present a keynote address. The four former presidents of Detroit Black Gay, Inc. and the Black Pride Society will be honored. They are Johnny Jenkins, Hank Millbourne, Kim Jones and Robert Clark, who will be honored posthumously.
The biggest event of the week will undoubtedly be Saturday’s picnic in Palmer Park. DJ Tone, DJ Darryl G and DJ Matt Holidaye will play for the crowd and there will be an HTJ showcase featuring Fantaysa Dior, Raven Devine, Samantha Brazil, Davana Couture-Malone, Cierra Dior Malone, Innocence Rodeo, Jasmine Dior, Romeo Milliown and Rajhn Star-Studded King. There will also be performances by Charlie B. Keys, Tia Taylar, J-Leeb and Chalice B. Keys as well as a fashion show presented by Austin Christopher featuring the work of designers DL Perrett and LCM Glam Boutique.
Things wrap up on Sunday with two events. The first is a worship service organized by Whosoever Ministries. It will be begin at 11 a.m. and take place at Ecumenical Theological Seminary at 2930 Woodward Ave., Detroit. The second is the annual brunch. Produced by Imagine This Productions, the brunch will take place at 1917 American Bistro, located at 19416 Livernois Ave., Detroit. This event is likely to sell out, so tickets should be purchased in advance.
Of all the events scheduled throughout the week, Lipscomb said the 20th anniversary of HTJ is all about memories — both reliving old ones and making new ones.
“I’m looking forward to the memories,” he said. “To those who were here in 1996 sharing, and I’m looking forward to having people who were not here in ’96 listen and share their thoughts. I’m also looking forward to hearing the memories of loved ones who are gone. A lot of people who were a part of Hotter Than July are no longer here.”