It was a fitting farewell. LGBT Detroit honored former Between The Lines publishers Susan Horowitz and Jan Stevenson with the agency’s 2021 Women’s Herstory Month award during a Facebook Live celebration and discussion that took place with the two longtime LGBTQ+ activists Monday evening.
LGBT Detroit Executive Director Curtis Lipscomb said that when they decided to host an LGBT Honors service during Women’s Herstory Month, they didn’t have to think long before deciding who to honor.
“We examined folks who had significantly contributed to our organization and the community and they substantially contributed throughout almost 30 years of sponsorship and promotion,” Lipscomb said. “It was a no-brainer. This was just us getting together and saying thank you.”
The event was facilitated by Rhiannon Chester-Bey, Stoyan Francis and Chunnika Hodges, who gently guided their honorees to tell their story.
How They Got Here
Horowitz and Stevenson started the evening off by revisiting their illustrious careers in the LGBTQ+ community. Horowitz, for her part, recalled coming out at age 19 in 1972, just three years after the Stonewall uprising. She quickly started marching and demonstrating.
“By 1975, I decided we needed a printing press where we could get our stories printed,” Horowitz said. “So we started a lesbian-owned printing press in Manhattan. I trained myself in how to operate printing presses and then I trained other women how to operate printing presses since they wouldn’t let women in the union.”
Horowitz and her fellow co-owners of Tower Press and, later, at her own Pride Publishing, printed revolutionary LGBTQ+ materials including the ACT-UP Silence = Death campaign and posters. She went on to publish the New York City Pride Guide from 1983 through 1999 and was the first executive director of the New Festival, New York’s annual gay and lesbian film festival, from 1989-1993.
Stevenson, meanwhile, started out a professional musician, a string bass player to be precise. But after realizing she wanted to pursue a different career path, she went back to school and then into corporate banking.
“The corporate banking world in the ’80s was not particularly welcoming to women, or certainly queer women, so I left that after a time,” said Stevenson, who went on to co-found Affirmations LGBTQ+ Community Center, become its first board president and, eventually, its first executive director. She held that position for five years.
“Love at first sight”
In 1994, both women were serving on the board of the National Gay and Lesbian Force when they met at a meeting in Washington, D.C.
“It was love at first sight,” said Horowitz, who recalled packing up and moving to Michigan pretty quickly after that. “It was the true version of U-Haul lesbians.”
“She brought her three dogs with her,” Stevenson added. “And I was living in a one-bedroom apartment.”
Between The Lines had been founded in 1993 by Mark Weinstein, and by the time Horowitz moved to Michigan, it was under the leadership of Shannon Rhodes. Horowitz and Stevenson purchased the paper, which was then a 12-page monthly publication, in the fall of 1995.
For the next 25 years, the couple chronicled the best and worst of LGBTQ-related happenings in the state and across the country. In the course of their work, Horowitz and Stevenson shone a bright light across the community and featured and promoted struggling groups and causes searching for attention and promotion. As other LGBTQ+ newspapers across the country came and went, Stevenson and Horowitz proved they had staying power.
But, as the oldest cliché in the book says, all good things must come to an end. The dynamic duo decided to retire and sold all their interests in Pride Source Media Group, the parent company of BTL and the annual Pride Source directory, to longtime BTL employee Benjamin Jenkins and owner of Merithot Creative Marketing.
“I feel very grateful for everything about the greater Detroit and southeastern Michigan LGBTQ community,” Stevenson said. “It’s been an honor to tell your stories. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. And the fact that a new generation is able to take the paper over and keep it going. A lot of papers are struggling now. I think we have some people here in the state who are going to give it a good future.”
Horowitz reflected back on her time as co-publisher of the paper with pride.
“When someone comes up to me and says they don’t feel seen or heard that’s a signal to me to do a better job, to take the criticism and see what I can do to change that,” she said. “I think we’re moving in the right direction. When I think of where this started and who started it and where we are today, I have great hope as an older person,” she said. “We’ve had many times we’ve had to correct course, and we never got to perfect, but we committed to the process.”
Lipscomb, whose personal and professional relationship with Stevenson predates the purchase of the newspaper, said the couple’s leadership will be missed.
“Jan has always been a supportive person in the movement period. She understands that we all have parts to contribute to our collective wellbeing,” he said. “And Susan is nothing but a powerhouse when it comes to understanding our political landscape. They’re friends of mine. And whenever I need advice or guidance, it’s nothing for me to call and ask.”