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LGBT Detroit Turns 30: What You Need to Know About North America's Largest Black-Led LGBTQ+ Organization

Leaders reflect on the legacy of the Michigan-based org

Jason Collins

At a time when LGBTQ+ issues are at the forefront of American politics, for queer folks, finding affirming community can feel like a lifeline. LGBT Detroit, North America’s largest Black-founded and led LGBTQ+ non-profit, has been growing that kind of community for nearly three decades.  

The organization will celebrate its 30th anniversary in October. Ahead of a special birthday gala that month, LGBT Detroit leaders and volunteers have been working on a special initiative — the In 30 Seconds Campaign, which celebrates the organization's commitment to the local community via 30-second-long, community-submitted videos answering the question, "How has community saved you?" The organization is also running a $30 for 30 fundraising campaign in honor of the momentous occasion. 

The organization known as LGBT Detroit today was created by Kick Publishing Company and was first known as KICK: The Agency for LGBT African Americans. In 1994, KICK was only the third Black American LGBT media company in the U.S., and they were what placed Detroit's Black LGBT community on the map. A. Nzere Kwabena, the organization's executive director, told Pride Source that LGBT Detroit came into existence because of the surrounding environment during the late ‘80s, namely HIV and AIDS. 

Kwabena explains, "The health crisis started, and a lot of us, including myself, were just trying to save ourselves. By the time the company [Kick Publishing Company] started, HIV was still a gay, bi and trans epidemic." 

From then on, Kwabena wanted to help share the stories of this community, volunteering to become the editor-in-chief of a Black gay men's support group newsletter. "That newsletter became a hit locally, and from that, we formed a company called Kick Publishing Company." People responded to the voice coming out of the Midwest, which had been lacking. Kwabena shares, "People sought us out to hear what it is to live in the intersections of the identity of both race and [being a part of] America's heartland."  

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A. Nzere Kwabena at the LGBT Detroit offices. Photo. Andrew Potter

Kwabena points to its longtime mission as something unique about the organization: "LGBT Detroit is rooted in the promise of a better life."

Soon after its founding, LGBT Detroit introduced its annual Hotter Than July celebration, America's oldest Black, gay non-profit Pride celebration. Robert E. Tate, the organizer of the Detroit social group Billionaire Boys Club, was one of the event's co-founders and had been a part of the LGBTQ+ scene in Detroit before Kick Publishing Company was even a thing. 

The publisher launched the magazine around the same time Tate founded Imagine This Productions, an upscale event production company. Tate knew back then that KICK was going to go far. "I've seen how LGBT Detroit has grown from the beginning until now. I've seen positive things coming out of that organization, and I like to be a part of positive things," he told Pride Source. Tate worked with Cornelius Wilson, who had organized the Men of Color group, to establish the first Hotter Than July event.   

With LGBT Detroit's 30th anniversary on the horizon, Tate reflects on being a part of this community: "With me being there, seeing stuff, I can say that 30 years is really a milestone of all of the different programs that LGBT Detroit has, and I can see that going further and further into the future."      

When Kick Publishing Company started, Kwabena said people weren’t consciously performing advocacy work — they were "people who were just trying to care for one another." By 2003, though, KICK had established itself as a non-profit organization supporting numerous programs and safe spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals. 

In 2015, KICK changed its name to  LGBT Detroit, and in 2016, they moved into permanent headquarters, affectionately nicknamed #SafeBraveSpace. Since then, LGBT Detroit has grown to include around 800 registered members and diligently works to provide a safe space for all members of the community to work, live and play. An additional nearby property was acquired, which was turned into a campus, making LGBT Detroit the largest Black-founded and led LGBT organization in North America. 

With the success of Hotter Than July celebration came Cold as Hell, a winter Pride event that celebrates a "fetish fusion." Cold as Hell was created to cater to men who wanted to express themselves in "a very unique way." "Kink is a part of LGBT culture, although it isn't just LGBT, and kink has been celebrated for decades," Kwabena elaborates. The event was produced as a result of the growth of an emerging Black kink fetish over the past 10 years, which is what the event celebrates. Cold as Hell, Kwabena says, offers an educational opportunity for people to understand kink.

Service pup and gear enthusiast Wolf Pup Saturn and Bobby the Fire Marshal, a sensory and bondage specialist, host the event, which consists of a variety of live demonstrations, interactive experiences, a gear show and informative panel discussions. This year, Cold as Hell's campaign is focusing on a multi-pronged HIV anti-stigma campaign called Togethr.  

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A. Nzere Kwabena. Photo. Andrew Potter

Today, LGBT Detroit is an integral part of the community, and younger members also have the opportunity to feel supported and support others. Luis Gutierrez, an executive assistant to Kwabena and the organization’s operations coordinator, has been a part of the organization since 2020. He says after graduating high school, "[I] didn't really know what I wanted to do. One of the previous teachers was very close with Nzere and he recommended me to volunteer."  

Gutierrez got involved during the pandemic, starting with work on the Hotter Than July event, playing an integral role in creating a virtual event. The experience helped Gutierrez gain a good sense of the type of community LGBT Detroit helps create. At 30 years old, he represents one of many younger people who are newer to LGBT Detroit. While working with the older members, Gutierrez finds it interesting to hear the stories about how Hotter Than July was planned years ago and appreciates that the team listens to ideas from younger members. 

Kwabena looks back proudly on how far LGBT Detroit has come since 2015. "The company has flourished," he says. As the organization's 30th anniversary gala approaches, LGBT Detroit is taking this time to reflect on its journey, people and accomplishments. 

And so is Tate. LGBT Detroit, he says, "has been a really positive thing for the Black community — to have an agency that can supply different perspectives or different programs that are part of this organization that is Black-led is a big thing, and it is a positive thing that a Black organization can exist for these many years and have a positive image."   

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