LANSING – Dennis Hall could not continue to pretend to be someone he wasn’t anymore. So, with two sons and a wife, he began the process of coming out. It was 1989.
Since that time, Hall, 60, has become the president of the Lansing Association for Human Rights, an LBGT organization in Lansing, and his voice is leading the organization in a new direction.
But his coming out informs his every decision. “It was a trauma that I lived through, as everyone told me I would,” Hall said.
His two sons, now 36 and 37, were supportive. “My sons understood, amazingly enough.”
And that understanding has allowed him to be an active and involved grandfather to his grandkids – and still remain an important part of his sons’ lives. And while his ex-wife remains in Lansing, the two stay “guarded” in their relationship.
“We have kids together, so we are still involved in some ways,” Hall said.
Hall came to Lansing in 1965 as a student at Michigan State University. He graduated from there and was employed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He said he loved the job.
“I had a good career and I loved it. I loved working to protect the state’s environment and special places hopefully kids, grandkids and great grandkids can enjoy,” he said.
But he said working in the department was also troubling at times: “The DNR is a fairly conservative institution. I think there were a lot of us who would have come out, but we couldn’t. I think that is true for a lot of state workers.”
Hall always knew that he would get into LBGT activism. But the route that brought him to LAHR was circuitous at best. He started by being on the board of the ACLU Lansing. As part of that position, he was assigned to interface with the LBGT community. During that period, Hall found himself drawn into the organization of LAHR.
And what has the LBGT community gained since he came out in 1989?
“Finally getting a human rights ordinance that is so far still there – and nobody has decided to challenge it, ” he said. “I think that is a real positive.”
More generally, he thinks that rejection of antigay measures by the city and county is just as important. “Just generally, the fact the Lansing community and Ingham County did not vote for the one-man one-woman marriage thing, even though it passed,” he said. “What LAHR and lots of other people have done in the past, it is finally paying off. When people start thinking about what these proposed constitutional amendments, they are asking how they’re going to impact people?”
But it’s not all roses. He said the organization is seeking board members and is particularly interested in reaching out to people of color – something he said the group has not done very well in the past. But, he said, there is a form of apathy he is concerned about in Lansing. It’s as though the community is interested in going to the bars, but not much else.
“I don’t understand the apathy, or lack of interest, of the LBGT community in Lansing,” he said. “Again, it might be because we are stuck in the middle of the state away from people. Away from a bigger city where they could feel more a part of a community. It’s a mystery as to why.”
As president of LAHR, Hall has helped coordinate the OUT Spoken series. This is a series of town hall meetings on LBGT issues which give people a chance to discuss issues and concerns facing the LBGT community. He says he hopes to continue this series through the next year.