In 1987, a group of black, gay men decided to form an upscale social club that has come to be known as the Billionaire Boys Club.
Robert Tate, a founding member, said Byron Combs was responsible for the idea following a friendly gathering for a meal at his home one night. Every month thereafter, a different member of the club began hosting dinner parties at their home.
“It was classy within each member’s means financially,” said Wayne Johnson, also a founding member. “Everyone wouldn’t necessarily have the same budget for an event like that. With that being said, the quality of the event from a brotherhood or spiritual perspective it was up there.”
As the months passed, new members came and went, but at the heart of the club, Johnson said, “I remember genuine and sincere efforts to establish friendship. Friendship was at the epicenter of what we were attempting to accomplish. Filling a void in the black gay community for people who wanted to socialize on a scale outside of the bar scene in more intimate spaces. Real socialization as opposed to the kind of partying people do when they’re out at the bar.”
To celebrate this camaraderie, the BBC would throw an anniversary party each year. The response from the community after the first year at Tate’s home grew so large that the club needed to find a new venue for their second anniversary. The BBC hosted a party at On Stage, a restaurant on Adams Street near the old Adams Theater in Detroit.
After three to four months there, the club moved to Jimmy’s on Woodward just south of Campus Martius where they gathered for about a year. As the years passed, the BBC continued to host parties and events at places the gay community had often not yet ventured into like the Top of the Ponch and the Hotel St. Regis. The BBC socialized in private spaces, too, like the Detroit and Renaissance Clubs.
“This was at a time when gay and lesbian entertainment experiences were limited,” said Curtis Lipscomb, executive director of LGBT Detroit. “So Robert and the BBC would take spaces that were traditionally operated for straight folks and make them into unique experiences for us.”
In 1993, June Washington, one of three women who were a part of the BBC throughout the years, was co-chairing the annual Human Rights Campaign dinner event.
“That was the first year the HRC dinner committee had a people of color committee,” said Washington. “The BBC was a part of doing the outreach with me to bring in more people of color. That year was their biggest dinner up to that point. The BBC was a big part of that.”
Three years later, a group of activists created Hotter Than July – Detroit Black Gay Pride. The weeklong celebration was actually built around the successful BBC anniversary weekend in July, which by this time included a Sunday brunch.
BBC member Reggie Hamilton, remembers “wonderful” anniversary parties held at places like the YWCA on Jefferson and the Scarab Club on Wayne State University’s campus.
“I remember what stood out mostly was their class,” said Anthony Winn of Anthony Winn Productions, who started Strongarm Productions in the ’90s and produced parties of his own.
“The BBC was the classiest, sharpest group of men that I had ever seen at that particular time,” Winn said. “They were professionals. They were mature. And it was a different type of party than I had ever been exposed to. Period. Straight or gay. Here’s the thing, despite how classy and sharp everything was, they still knew how to throw a party. It wasn’t classy stuffy, or classy bourgeois, or classy arrogant. They still knew how to bring a party in the midst of that. That’s what stood out to me. That’s the thing I’ve never forgotten about them and it’s something I have not really seen since.”
While the members have aged and BBC does not party like they used to, Johnson said, “We still feel very much among ourselves an organization. As brothers and sisters we still very much have that same camaraderie. Thirty years is a significant amount of time. We’d be doing ourselves a disservice by not hosting something this year for our anniversary. Not saying this is a rebirth of event giving, but who knows. One step at a time.”