DETROIT – Curtis Lipscomb, executive director of LGBT Detroit, could not say “thank you” enough on Saturday night to his staff, his family and his friends.
At the organization’s 14th Annual Holiday In December gala, Lipscomb – a self-proclaimed “homo without decorating genes” – told around 50 or so supporters in attendance that “this loveliness came together with help from great people. We’ve been working literally up until an hour before the event to make this space safe and clean for our guests,” he said about hosting their longest-running fundraiser for the first time at LGBT Detroit’s new location on Greenfield Road between Seven and Eight Mile. The space is nearly triple the size of its former facility in Midtown Detroit, expanding from 1,200 square feet to 3,500 square feet. This will help LGBT Detroit increase the number of people the organization plans to serve.
“We didn’t obtain this space through a grant. We didn’t obtain this space through a foundation. The people got this space. You need to understand that. The people got this space,” said Lipscomb, pointing to longtime supporters of LGBT organizations, like Howard Israel and Henry Grix, that helped make it possible. “The people said they wanted a brave, safe space. The people got what they wanted. You should applaud yourselves because you made this happen.”
A local couple – Cecil Branch and his wife, Felicia – have known Lipscomb for many years and offered their help. The Branch family has guided him through the process of acquiring the structure built in 1961, which LGBT Detroit should have an official certificate of occupancy for before the end of the year.
“These are our consultants. They know what it takes to manage four walls and a roof. Cecil is big time. As a facilities manager he operates 60 Comerica banks. He said, ‘I’m going to help you get this space together,’ and he has,'” said Lipscomb. Props were given to several others including Lewis Jones, a Home Depot employee, who offered expert advice and friendly rates to help LGBT Detroit complete construction.
The walls throughout the space were adorned with pieces of artwork for sale hung personally by LGBT Detroit sponsors Toney Hughes Sr. and Jr. of the Sherwood Forest Art Gallery in Detroit. Homemade food was prepared by administrative assistant Lawrence Pennymon’s partner.
Entertainment was provided by Ozie Cargile, a composer of classical and symphonic music. During his performance, he expressed his gratitude for the organization, explaining his need for a more intellectually stimulating environment. A place where “you can go and talk about issues and meet like-minded people.”
Cargile said he found what he was looking for.
“LGBT Detroit, I am very proud to say, quite literally changed my life,” he said. “For many years I have known about my sexuality, but it really wasn’t until this year that I found the courage to completely embrace that in every aspect of my life.”
Lipscomb’s good friend Ramon Morton traveled in from Gary, Indiana to celebrate.
“We talk all the time. We’re not just impacted here, but we have friends across the nation and we need to come together and figure out how we share our resources to make life better for not just someone on Greenfield, but from your road. Ramon has shared strategies and advice. We’re gonna need it. Times have changed and we need to stick together,” said Lipscomb. “I’m glad the people said they wanted this space because now we have a fight to prepare for.”
Part of that fight, he said, is LGBT Detroit’s work to “further improve the physical well-being of our movement.
In collaboration with the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, LGBT Detroit will develop a Cancer Action Council. In an effort to reduce rates of cancer incidence, late-stage diagnoses, and cancer deaths in minority populations, the council will target Detroit and areas within Wayne County by identifying specific needs in those populations with cancer.
The project is led by Hayley Thompson, Ph.D., leader of the Population Studies and Disparities Research Program at Karmanos.
As LGBT Detroit settles into their new space, the organization will continue to provide services in partnership with the Michigan Department of Community Health, University of Michigan’s Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Educational programs offered through those partnerships aim to help reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS. LGBT Detroit also offers programs to help reduce tobacco use.
Beyond Saturday night’s fundraiser, Lipscomb encouraged LGBT Detroit supporters to become reoccurring donors as the organization continues to grow.
“Your time, your talent and your treasure. Think about that,” he said. “That is what we value at LGBT Detroit.