On June 11, I realized a dream come true 33 years in the making when I got to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Detroit Tigers game, part of the celebration of LGBTQ Pride Night at Comerica Park.
It all began in 1988. Gary Roberts had just filed paperwork to create Affirmations Community Center and we were about to have our first board meeting. On the agenda was the election of our inaugural officers and there were two candidates for president, my friend Sue Pittman and me. We were asked to speak to the assembled group of a couple dozen members, all crowded into a small house in Detroit owned by Sue and her partner, Christine Puckett. The couple let Affirmations use this vacant rental property for the new organization’s first six months.
Sue went first and then I spoke. I talked about how we could build a compassionate community center that would provide a home and a public face for LGBTQ+ people in the region. After outlining potential programs and other plans, I fantasized with them about how one day we would all be celebrating our new found freedoms and Pride at Tigers Stadium.
The vote was held. I was elected president. The rest is history
In 1988 it wasn’t even legal to be LGBTQ+. Police stings were a regular threat; it was almost impossible to be an out LGBTQ+ politician or business leader. AIDS was raging. Trans issues weren’t even on the radar. We were not allowed to serve in the military, and our relationships had to be kept secret or we could lose our jobs. We could only dream about a future that was inclusive, welcoming and safe.
But we did have hopes and dreams, and we had each other. And we kept at it.
We quickly got to work setting up the Hotline, scheduling volunteers and starting our first support groups. Many more joined us, some at Affirmations, some creating new organizations and projects. We made progress and suffered terrible setbacks, none worse that the 1992 brutal murder of Sue and Chris by their homophobic neighbor.
Now 33 years after that first meeting at Affirmations I was standing on the field at Comerica Park and looking out at rainbow flags all over the stadium. I heard the announcers welcome the exuberant crowd to LGBTQ Pride Night at Comerica Park. Four LGBTQ leaders and their respective institutions were honored on the field and presented with donations from Comerica Bank, including Roz Keith of Stand With Trans, Dani Woods from the Detroit Police Department, Kevin Heard of the Detroit Regional LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce and Mark McCormick from the Ruth Ellis Center.
Just before we stepped onto the field I got a text from April DeBoer wishing me luck throwing out the first pitch. April and her partner Jayne were the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court, resulting in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized marriage equality nationwide in 2015. The effort, struggles, victories and tenacious hard work to organize, energize and mobilize our community for decades seemed to collapse into that moment standing there on the field.
As I stepped up to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of the game I smiled at the gracious, welcoming Tigers staff, looked out at the beautiful rainbow-adorned crowd and remembered back to that board meeting 33 years ago. We’d made it to Tigers Stadium — a dream come true.