When the civil rights movement began in the mid-1950s, Martin Luther King Jr. likely could not have imagined the scope of the social progress achieved today, almost 70 years later. Many might not know that part of that success was because of the LGBT community’s role in the movement.
“We’ve always been a part the civil rights movement, going back to the behind the scenes, with organizers of the March on Washington like Bayard Rustin. I think he went around the country,” said Martha Grevatt, vice president of Pride at Work Michigan — an organization that represents LGBTQ union members. “Our community has always been part of the many celebrations that take place, but I think we’d like to increase our visibility now and in the future, because the struggle for civil rights is the essence of our struggle. I’m convinced that if Martin Luther King was here today, he would be on our side. In fact, his widow, Coretta Scott King, was very much a supporter of the LGBTQ community and our struggle for marriage equality before she died.”
In addition to Grevatt’s activism for the LGBTQ workforce, she is also a member of Detroit’s Martin Luther King Day March Committee, working to coordinate LGBTQ outreach this year. She said that this year’s march, for both LGBTQ people and allies alike, is exceedingly important.
“It is especially relevant, given the attacks on the civil rights of every single oppressed group in this country. You know, the acceleration of hate crimes, deportations, reversals of rulings and laws that benefitted our community. And, the rolling back of many, many gains, and the attempt to chip away at the right to marry with these religious freedom bills that deny same-sex couples access,” she said. “All this that’s going on makes this year’s march particularly relevant. And, it’s happening just five days before the one year anniversary of the inauguration of Mr. 45.”
According to Grevatt, both the timing of the event, and the turmoil surrounding the civil rights of the nation’s minorities has created a sense of “urgency” among people. The theme of this year’s rally and march is “Jobs, Peace & Justice.” She said that ideally, she would love to see attendance along the lines of 1,500 to 2,000 people at the 2018 Detroit MLK Day march.
“There’s people that come and come back again and again each year, but then, each year we find new groups that are interested,” Grevatt said. “Youth groups, we have a delegation from the Arab community, and we’re stepping up our LGBTQ outreach this year. It varies, and the weather is a factor always, but like I said, the urgency people feel varies from year to year (too).”
This year, the event will begin with a rally at the Central United Methodist Church at 23 E. Adams and Woodward at Noon.
“This is a historic church in the forefront of the struggle for justice, going back to the abolitionist movement. Martin Luther King himself had preached there on more than one occasion, and even today it’s very much a social justice ministry,” Grevatt said. “We’ll have a rally with speakers and music. At 1:30, we’ll have a march that’s about a mile or a mile and a half around downtown. We’ll end up at another historic church, St. John’s Episcopal Church, where we will have a meal and a cultural program beginning at 3 p.m.”
Event goers can also expect food, music and poetry. Along with a presentation from guest speaker Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, who was once a special assistant to MLK. The event should finish around 5 p.m., and attendees are encouraged to bring winter clothing items, and items to donate to the homeless at either the march’s starting or stopping point.
Grevatt said that even if one is unable to attend the entirety of the day’s events, stopping by for even a portion of the march can be worth it.
“We recommend people bring friends. There is free parking by the way, across from Central United, do dress warmly, dress in layers and be prepared for the cold and the wind,” she said. “If the roads are bad, give yourself extra time, but don’t let the weather keep you away. And be prepared to have a good time, be inspired, and if you come once, you’ll want to come back year after year. If you can’t come all day, come for the rally or the march or the afternoon events.”