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BY SHARON GITTLEMAN
DETROIT – The more than a million people who skated in Campus Martius Park, sipped champagne at elegant parties and played games at the NFL Experience enjoyed another simple pleasure at Detroit’s Super Bowl XL – the chance to see the rainbow flag waving high above the Triangle Foundation’s GLBT Welcome Center at the 1515 Broadway theater.
The men and women who stopped inside got another bonus – good advice about the places gays and lesbians could go to celebrate and explore the area safely.
“People were thrilled that we had a presence,” said Triangle Foundation Executive Director Jeffrey Montgomery. “We had people from London and Mexico and a lot of local people – people going to the game or the Winter Festival.”
Montgomery said 200 to 300 gay and straight visitors checked out the Center during the four days it operated just a few blocks from Ford Field.
“They said, ‘Glad to see you here.’ ‘What a great idea,'” he said.
The Center gave LGBT visitors a place to relax in the midst of the football frenzy, said Montgomery.
“It was also for the general public to see these big events have gay support and gay fans and gay interest,” he said. “We were in their minds all of a sudden.”
Football fans could stop in for a chat with the 15 Center volunteers, watch the game on the big screen TV or thaw out with a cup of steaming coffee.
“It was an oasis of calm, warm friendship,” he said.
The day before the game, a half-dozen Pittsburgh Steelers fans taking refuge from the cold, caught sight of the television, said 1515 Broadway’s owner/operator Chris Jaszczak.
“One man said, ‘We can watch the game here for no charge?’ The other guy said, ‘Well, this is a gay thing,'” said Jaszczak. “The first one said, ‘Who gives a shit? They’re football fans.'”
GLBT Welcome Centers would pop up at other Detroit events – and those in cities across the country, if Jaszczak had his way.
“The idea made all the sense in the world,” he said. “There were gay people coming in from all over the country to support this. It made people feel good to see the rainbow flag.”
While Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick didn’t stop by the Center for a visit, and no football heroes or celebrities were in sight, drop-ins left several hundred dollars in donations for Triangle, surprising Montgomery.
“We wanted this to be a friend-raiser not a fund-raiser,” he said.
Hostility from passersby was one thing that was mercifully in short supply, he said.
“We had two people heckle us – shouting stupid things and walking on,” he said. “They were so inconsequential, especially when you consider there were tens of thousands of people walking up and down in front of us.”
Montgomery was thrilled with the public’s reaction to the Center.
“In every way we expected this to be effective and successful, it exceeded our expectations,” he said.