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Jerry Abraham “Jai” Moore, a tireless advocate for civil liberties and social justice, and the last surviving officer of the Detroit Area Council of the Mattachine Society of the late 1950s, died May 22 at his home in Clearwater, Florida. He was 92 and had been in diminishing health for several months.
At age 28, Moore joined with fellow Detroiters Hal Lawson and David Brewer to launch the Detroit Mattachine Society, the first formal organization for gay people in Michigan. The chapter lasted 17 months, producing a monthly newsletter, holding public meetings and seeking allied professionals to help counter the era’s prevailing stereotypes about homosexuality.
Moore was the last living link to Detroit’s earliest LGBTQ activism.
Jerry Moore was born April 24, 1928, in Piketon, Ohio, the son of Lee Ora Moore and Joel Brough Moore. He recalled moving to Detroit on Dec. 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He graduated from Redford High School in the June class of 1946.
His mother worked at Sears to help pay his tuition at Wayne University, as Wayne State was then known. He interned with two teachers who were involved in producing the “Lone Ranger” and “Green Hornet” radio programs and befriended Bill Cornell, who worked on sound effects. Cornell became Moore’s mentor, who he called his “gay mother.”
Moore focused more on extracurriculars than classes. Despite warnings from the dean, his grades were such that the Army drafted him in 1950. He barely missed being sent into combat during the Korean War.
Instead, he was stationed at Camp McCoy in western Wisconsin, where some other soldiers introduced him to gay nightlife in LaCrosse and nearby towns, as well as to a vibrant circuit of female impersonators that toured the Midwest.
“We had a nice gay environment because it happened to be within the Jewish group, Jewish queens and a couple of others,” Moore explained in a 2005 oral history interview. “We’d go into a local hotel, stay overnight, we’d go to the bars. We had our own little campy circles.”
After his stint in the service, Moore steeped himself in Detroit’s thriving downtown gay bar scene. He became part of the “Golden Slipper crowd” that spent Saturday nights at the Golden Slipper show bar on Grand River. The club featured Moore’s friend Bramwell Franklin, known to Detroit gay audiences as Chi Chi, as its mainstay performer.
On occasion, Moore adopted the drag persona of Lady Jai, and his gay friends knew him as Jai.
Around the same time, Moore became a gopher and assistant for his friend Bill Cornell, who had begun his own public relations agency specializing in promotion for the entertainment world. Through Moore’s involvement with Cornell, he met many celebrities on their stops in Detroit, including Cab Calloway, Tallulah Bankhead, Mae West, Joe E. Brown, Martha Raye and Harry Belafonte.
Back at Wayne, Moore became the first-ever Jewish pledge to the local Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity. He became friends with his TKE brother Hal Lawson, who he learned was also gay, and the two rented an apartment together near campus for a year before Moore moved into an all-gay rooming house on 2nd Boulevard.
Not long after that, in August 1958, Lawson urged Moore to help him and David Brewer to establish the Detroit Mattachine Society. Moore served as secretary, handling correspondence and typing two sets of minutes, one with their real names, the other with pseudonyms for fear that the authorities might find them. At a time when gay and bisexual men faced routine arrest for acting on their sexuality, members feared police would infiltrate the group.
But the Motor City was not yet ready for organized gay activism. After struggling to garner members, the group disbanded in March 1960.
“We do not know who is to blame,” Moore wrote to the Society’s leaders in San Francisco, “We, the members, or the flighty gay populace.”
Brewer died in 2001. Lawson died in 2003.
While involved with the Society, Moore landed a job with an insurance firm. He later taught real estate and operated a coffee shop near the Redford Theater before moving to the Tampa Bay area in 1978.
Moore’s activism in Florida was devoted and varied. He served on the board of the Florida ACLU, was an early supporter of Equality Florida, belonged to Atheists of Florida and founded the South Pinellas chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
As it happened, he discovered Humanistic Judaism and became close with Sherwin Wine of Birmingham Temple only after leaving Detroit. Moore went through training over three years with Wine, which brought him back to Metro Detroit on a regular basis, to become a madrich, a sort of lay leader.
In 2014, the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan, which holds the Detroit Mattachine Society records, brought Moore to Ann Arbor to share his memories in a public conversation at the Hatcher Library.
During the evening, Moore enjoyed the spotlight, remembering his involvement with Mattachine and bar life from long ago. He seemed to particularly enjoy regaling the crowd with stories about his contact with famous entertainers, when he secured a place to house Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger, or when Paul Lynde sat in silence at the Ten Eleven bar terrified the vice squad would come in at any minute.
“It has been my pleasure,” Moore said in parting, a phrase that was something of a slogan for him. “Some people say I’ll probably have that on my tombstone. But it has been a pleasure.”