Sometimes it takes moving from one house to another to realize how much excess "stuff" one has. That's what happened to Tim Kniaz when he and his husband moved from Warren to Eastpointe last April and Kniaz took stock of all the boxes.
"I was like, 'We have all this crap; we don't need it,'" Kniaz recalled. "And I don't want to do a yard sale … it's not really worth selling to me. I've done work with a group called Food Not Bombs and a group called Food Not Class; they're like mutual aid groups, they're anarchist-based … so I figured I'd go along the lines of that."
What began with a table of free items in Kniaz's new garage quickly blossomed into something much more. People began offering to donate their own cast-offs: clothing, kitchenware and random odds and ends. And soon, he had what he described as a free store. Kniaz decided to make use of his large property by setting up a clothesline and arranging items on tables. However, between the rain of the summer and the cold of winter — not to mention a surplus of donated items — Kniaz needed a new plan.
"Around the time that corona[virus] hit, I had a lot of spare time, so I remodeled the front half of the garage in order for it to be more of an actual storefront," Kniaz explained. "So now what I have is basically the same exact setup, but it's more organized; there's shelving. Because it is an anarchist, mutual aid-type event, there's literature about that, anarchist ideas: Basically, how to reduce your role in capitalism and not polluting the earth by recycling things and helping people out."
By the time Kniaz spoke with Between The Lines, the free store had been reopened for several weeks and he said there's been a decent turnout thus far. He described his role as hosting the space and keeping an eye on it so it doesn't get trashed and restocking as needed. Because Kniaz usually has Sundays off, the free store is generally open Sunday afternoons, 1 to 5 p.m.
For a long time, Kniaz said, he wasn't active in the queer community. But the more he learned the truth about Pride festivals —that the modern celebrations are a commemoration of the Stonewall riots — the more he wanted to plan an event along the lines of "taking back Pride." And the more Kniaz asked around, the more he found people unaware of Pride's origins, as he had been.
"As I talked to people … I started realizing most of the people in the LGBTQ community don't really understand how Pride Month started," Kniaz said. "So I would talk to people randomly at this rally that I went to and I was telling them the history of it, and I was like, 'No, it started because of police brutality, because of basic inequality in the gay community in comparison with everywhere else — they were being abused, [etc.]' and everyone was like, 'Wow, I had no idea. I thought we were just out here having fun.'"
Kniaz decided to plan an event to discuss the origins of Pride, and it just so happened that he already had time and venue: his free store on a Sunday afternoon. And coincidentally, this Pride month it occurs on June 28, the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in 1969. Further, given current events that have shined a bright light on systemic racism like never before, Kniaz had yet another reason his event was relevant: during the Stonewall riots, it was trans women of color who led the charge.
"That's what hit me," Kniaz said. "It was kind of a last-minute thing … I didn't really have an idea of what I wanted to do, then I started seeing what was going on in our current political climate, and I was like, 'Wow, this is a good time for people to know the history of why this started, because this is the same thing, repeating over and over and over again.'"
"As far as what's happening with the Black Lives Matter movement … people need to understand that's where we came from, too, and it's time to start supporting people because without the solidarity and without the understanding that these things keep happening, that police brutality keeps on happening to minorities, to people of color, to trans people, to gay people, we're never gonna make it anywhere. And Eastpointe is literally the perfect place [for this event]."
The Mayor of Eastpointe
Monique Owens is the mayor of Eastpointe and she has voted against a Pride Month resolution two years running. (It was adopted both years by the council majority.) Kniaz said he's not sure why she's voted it down, but he's certainly disappointed. Being the first African American mayor in Eastpointe who won by a slim margin, Kniaz says she's not always accepted by the community. He defends her, yet he firmly believes she should be held accountable for her actions. At last year's city council meeting where the Pride Month resolution was on the agenda, Owens explained her negative vote by saying she was opposed to making distinctions between people, and that God loves everybody.
"I don't think she really understands the LGBTQ community as much as she understands her own community," Kniaz said.
Ever hopeful, he's invited her to his event, which he went on to describe in detail.
"It'll basically start out with a discussion of the Stonewall Riot, how it happened," Kniaz said. "I'll go over the history, how it relates to today's problems. Then the free store will be open."
He added that now he has a well-stocked wardrobe for trans people. Free food and refreshments will be served at the gathering by the group Food Not Class. Kniaz went on to talk about the invitation he extended to the mayor.
"I sent her an email with information, told her it would be great if she were there," Kniaz said. "She kind of has a way of making things hers."
By way of explanation, he said her remarks at a recent Black Lives Matter protest morphed into a campaign speech.
Therefore, Kniaz said, "I'm basically limiting down her platform, I'm not gonna allow her to speak [publicly] there," Kniaz said. "I feel like this is an opportunity for her to actually see the LGBTQ community in Eastpointe."
He wants Owens to meet the people affected by her decision to vote against something as simple as a Pride Month resolution.
"She basically shut out a whole entire demographic of people by not [voting for it]," Kniaz said. "So I want her to realize that, and hopefully she shows up. And we'll see what happens."
EP FreeStore and Taking Back Pride will be held on Sunday, June 28, from 1 to 5 p.m. across from Bellview Elementary School on the corner of Bell and Fern. Find out more on the event's Facebook page.