The Hotter Than July Retrospective is a collaboration between the largest Black-led LGBT nonprofit in North America, LGBT Detroit, and the largest and longest-running LGBTQ publication in Michigan, PrideSource’s Between the Lines. The Hotter Than July Retrospective is supported by the Detroit Journalism Fund at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.
For the next year, The Hotter Than July Retrospective will tell stories and cover issues most relevant to Southeast Michigan’s urban LGBTQ community. This feature addresses a lack of representation of LGBTQ people of color in mainstream media. It also serves as the kick-off for the Hotter Than July 25th anniversary.
Led by editor Jason Flowers, an assembled team of talented LGBTQ writers, photographers, videographers and storytellers of color tell stories and capture compelling images. In the coming editions of The Hotter Than July Retrospective, you will discover Hotter Than July — its history, progression and future. Lastly, you will learn about the fascinating people behind the event.
The Hotter Than July Retrospective authentically tells our stories in a way that best reflects who we really are. Stay tuned. Email Jason Flowers at [email protected] to share your experiences. Always visit HotterThanJuly.org for more information.
Co-Founder, Hotter Than July
Executive Director, LGBT Detroit
25 Years of Hotter Than July Leadership
By Damon “Magic” Percy
For the last quarter-century, Detroit’s Black gay Pride, Hotter Than July, has become the world’s second-oldest Black Pride event. Since its inception, there have been four different leaders who have brought their progressive and powerful perspective to make sure the party never stops. Hotter Than July prides itself on serving the community and reflecting the best of itself for the world to see.
Hotter Than July was founded in 1995 and planned as a week-long event showcasing the culture and diversity of Detroit’s LGBTQ community since 1996. Planning a Pride is more than a notion and requires a team backed by even greater leadership. At the helm of Hotter Than July’s great leadership has been Johnny L. Jenkins, Jr., Hank Milbourne, Kimberly R. Jones and Robert Clark who have brought the annual summer event to this monumental point.
The role of Hotter Than July president is to be the official face and driving force of the movement. The leader must reflect the standard to which they hold their supporters and workers accountable. As the chief decision maker, they balance the financial ups and downs and ensure all aspects of the community are covered inclusively within the integrity of the events.
Jenkins, who served from 1996 to 2007, was the first president, co-leading the initial planning committee with R. Leon Matthews (Askari Ali), as well as being president of, both, Detroit, Black Gay Pride, Inc. and Black Pride Society, two community-based organizations.
“My vision for Hotter Than July was to be an important asset in the Black LGBTQ community’s arsenal to advance our priorities and amplify our voices,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said that his biggest challenges were “trying to incorporate the diverse segments of the community into the planning and execution of events during Hotter Than July, and financing the event either through sponsorships, partnerships and vending opportunities.”
For past president Kimberly R. Jones, her participation began with spearheading a Friday event, eventually leading her to become a board member. Jones served on the executive team for 11 years. Her focus, she said, was getting “people to continue to believe in the movement enough to still contribute financially and socially.”
As the sole female president, she took satisfaction in having brought a strong lesbian community presence and visibility to Hotter Than July during her tenure.
“Women were always there in many roles, usually in the background,” Jones said. “We were the first ones at the picnic and at most of the other events. However, I brought them and myself to the foreground. Soon we had equal voices on the board and at creating events.”
Jones said Hotter Than July is an event where attendees will see and touch friends and extended family that they sometimes haven’t seen the whole year.
Past president Hank Milbourne served eight years on Hotter Than July’s executive team. He said, “Hotter Than July has changed and evolved over the years, as well as, times have changed in ways in which the community interacts with one another.” Milbourne acknowledged that he admires the fact that Hotter Than July addresses more social, political and topical issues relevant to the SGL/LGBT community in Metro Detroit.
Each president has handled both the challenges and successes of Hotter Than July with grace, patience and strength as it has grown and expanded into a community legacy that it is today. Past president Robert Clark, who was the youngest to hold the position of president, served for only one year, but made a great impact during his tenure. Jenkins said that, “Clark brought this youthful energy to what could have been a stagnant period and revitalized the movement with his peer group.”
Activist Michelle Brown said that Clark “was that next generation of activist that those of us who have been in the trenches hoped will one day step forward to lead the fight.” Sadly, Clark passed away in 2014 from health complications.
Moving into the next 25 years of Hotter Than July’s legacy, Milbourne hopes that it will “continue to evolve and continue to incorporate more segments of the diverse SGL/LGBT community of color.” He hopes it continues to “highlight the present day and current issues facing the community in a forum and fashion that sparks dialogue and critical thinking.” Jones said she would like to see a national recording artist showcased at the event.
“We have never had one and there are too many performers that would be great to have just for us.” Jenkins added, “Ultimately the community, like in 1996, gets to determine just how relevant Hotter Than July can and will be in the future in improving the quality of life for all Black LGBTQ people and families in Southeast Michigan and beyond.”
Today, Hotter Than July is hosted by LGBT Detroit and will celebrate its 25th anniversary partnering with community leaders and supporters offering various safe spaces for educating and showcasing the culture of the Black LGBTQ population. This year’s Hotter Than July 25th Anniversary events will take place during the last weekend.
Damon “Magic” Percy is a cultural historian, writer, activist and archivist based out of Detroit. He sits on the boards of community organizations – Black Bear Brotherhood and Detroit Sound Conservancy – and is a longstanding member of LGBT Detroit. For more information visit hotterthanjuly.org.