From the outside, LGBT Detroit might look like many similar nonprofit organizations, but if one digs a little deeper they’ll find that it’s been making history both in the city’s LGBTQ and African-American communities since it was founded over 20 years ago. It got its roots in 1994 as the Kick Publishing Company, achieving the title of the third black American LGBT media company created in the U.S. A year later, it kicked off its Hotter Than July celebration, making it the world’s second oldest black pride. Now in 2019, LGBT Detroit is making history for a third time with its recently acquired expansion; after purchasing the building next door to its current Greenfield Road location, it’s become the “largest property of a black-owned LGBT center in North America,” said Curtis Lipscomb, LGBT Detroit’s executive director.
“So, we are now a campus,” Lipscomb said. “We’re looking at a combined 6,000 square foot unit of space where expanded programming occurs [next door] while admin stays here, because we were doing all three types of work — admin, event, programming — here, in our older space.”
As it currently stands, the organization plans on debuting its addition to its existing #SafeBraveSpace in spring of this year. But that’s only part of what the nonprofit organization has to offer in 2019. In advance of the upcoming National LGBTQ Task Force-sponsored Creating Change conference scheduled to come to Detroit for a third time in January, Between The Lines has decided to highlight a Michigan organization that encapsulates the values of the LGBTQ social justice movement. In this issue, BTL will take a look at LGBT Detroit’s mark on Southeast Michigan’s LGBTQ history, previous and existing involvement with Creating Change and its programmatic goals for the coming year.
The Impact of Creating Change
If one ventures into LGBT Detroit, they’ll find services that cover everything from HIV prevention and peer-to-peer discussion groups to youth leadership development courses and substance abuse recovery programs — diverse programming to serve diverse needs. And, according to Lipscomb, at least partially, the Creating Change conference is responsible for the breadth of services offered at the center.
“I go every year. Creating Change is one of the two mandatory national events that this company invests in. It is Creating Change and Out on the Hill (Black LGBTQ/SGL Leadership Summit) which is in September [hosted by] the National Black Justice Coalition,” Lipscomb said. “I find funds to send my team for either youth development at OOTH or some kind of education development at Creating Change. So what we normally do is get the program book, skim through it, try to figure out in which department who is going where, assign staff to those places and then come back, report internally what we discovered, and then, through our blog, tell the community what happened, where we were, what we got out of it and how we’re going to implement that work here. We do this every year.”
When asked why Creating Change is one of the two conferences chosen for his staff’s development, Lipscomb said its strength lies in its diversity and that comes from its annual change of location.
“It isn’t a static project where it’s always in Washington D.C., so you already are introducing something quite unique to people when you’re bringing it to their neighborhood: Kansas City, Detroit, Chicago, Nashville — wherever the host community is, a young or new activist can find easier access to this potential source of education and information,” he said.
Movement of physical location and programming aside, Lipscomb said that every year he gets excited about the conference’s offered Racial Justice Institute — a mainstay 31 years in the making.
“I think every single person needs to attend that. But as I skimmed through the program book, I saw some familiar local names here which I was excited about,” he said. “Of course, I’m excited about what I’m going to offer, too. I have my friends with Detroit Sound Conservancy and Dr. Tim Retzloff as my reference in telling our story, and I’m always excited about cultural identity workshops and, of course, fundraising workshops are something I always attend.”
Development in the New Year
Lipscomb has been heavily involved with LGBT Detroit and its preceding organizations for years. When asked if he could have imagined the jump from a formerly single-office nonprofit organization to a multi-building campus, he said that he always envisioned the organization growing.
“To be honest with you, I did imagine it,” Lipscomb said. “It was in 2004 when [with] our future board member Montrice, and his partner Cory Woods, we unveiled this idea of a welcome center. It was unveiled on the east side, one block east of Grosse Pointe and it was an illustration, it was really this silly kind of illustration looking back, but it was us offering this space where we gathered to plan and strategize. Did I imagine it a campus, [not really] but when we acquired the [current address] a vision kind of popped into my head and when we saw that the opportunity existed next door it was like, ‘Let’s go for it!'”
Coupled with its expansion, LGBT Detroit is gearing up for two other primary goals in 2019: recovery and neighborhood development. Lipscomb said that he seeks to use this year to make a greater impact among those in Detroit’s LGBTQ community who have fallen into a cycle of substance abuse. He said that the first step to achieving that goal is to form a partnership with Pure Recovery, a private rehab clinic located in the city.
“We have a relationship with pure recovery which is informal, but I met with the executive director to ask can we really buy into a formal relationship,” Lipscomb said. “Pure Recovery has the only LGBT recovery house in Detroit on the east side and we wanted to see that if you are trans or LGB, that you have this space to go to seek recovery and this is an allied institution.”
After chatting with some residents in the Pure Recovery program, Lipscomb said he’s eager to expand LGBT Detroit’s current work combating tobacco addiction to different substances.
“I met some of the residents, and it’s a whole issue that I am personally impacted by because as a person who has lived through the crack epidemic, I have seen what addiction has done,” he said.
Regarding neighborhood development, Lipscomb said that 2019 will mark not only LGBT Detroit’s physical expansion into a new space, but additionally as an intangible asset via community service programs to those in the Murray Hill neighborhood — where the organization is located.
“So, the expansion allows us to look at Murray Hill, the neighborhood we live in, to say ‘Hi, we’re here, we’re an asset to you, what can we do?’ That’s what we want to do to make the case of the development of the back area so that the neighbors can use this space to convene around issues of safety and economics and health and wellbeing,” Lipscomb said.
BOLD Maintaining Progress
As LGBT Detroit goes through a transitional period of expansion and development, it’s still not free of challenges that will slow down its forward progress. When asked what some of the organization’s hurdles are this year, Lipscomb cited stigma about HIV as one of the biggest.
Lipscomb said that when he posed this same question to LGBT Detroit’s Brother 2 Brother peer group — dedicated to keeping HIV-negative men at a negative status — stigma was the most widely stated answer.
“They [also] talked about miseducation about HIV infection, substance abuse, lack of secondary assistance in HIV programming, there’s still an issue of access to preventative services. Some even asked what the preventative services are because that’s what Brother 2 Brother is, a preventative service,” he said. “They talked about HIV fatigue, people don’t want to hear about HIV, they’re over it.”
Lipscomb added, too, that that stigma frequently bleeds over into peoples’ perceptions of the LGBTQ community.
“People say to me, particularly non-LGBT people, ‘Well, Curtis, don’t you think that things have improved?’ It sounds like a 1960s statement with black folks. ‘Don’t you think you’re doing better than before?’ I say to them, ‘Can you hold your partner’s hand in your church?’ I live in Detroit, Michigan, can you really do that?” Lipscomb said. “Can you go to Walmart and say, ‘Hey baby, how are you?’ Without getting a stare? If you are a trans person do you really feel comfortable in some places? Now, in 2019, I would argue not.”
Lipscomb said that once real equality is achieved and felt, that’s when he’ll be able to truly look back on his improvement. He said that in many ways, he feels media provides an inaccurate look at the true measure of progress in the lives of LGBTQ people across the U.S.
“I think TV has bamboozled us,” he said. “The ‘Will and Grace’ TV show, the ‘Ellen’ talk show.”
And perhaps the largest consequence of that Hollywood trickery, he said, is the lack of consistently spread information about LGBTQ organizations and their services from older generations to new ones that becomes day-to-day, “casual” knowledge.
“There is no casual information about preventative information, no casual information about where you can get PrEP there’s no casual information about where someone’s questioning identity can go,” Lipscomb said, adding that the internet provides great resources but lacks the same impact as one-on-one information as provided by community centers like LGBT Detroit.
“Because the internet is this huge kind of space, how can I know where what I’m getting is authentic? How do I know if it’s accurate? How do I know if this information applies to me? This is why I think spaces with institutional memory are important because if I say an institution it will conjure up some kind of importance to say, ‘You know what? I can go there and get what I need,’” Lipscomb said. “I’m in strong belief of that. I’m down for change — change is good. … The old guard had it differently than we had and the young guard has it differently than we had, but what I see now is a loss of how people get information and where they can go to get treatment and education and some kind of esteem.”
LGBT Detroit’s expansion and 2019 neighborhood development program are just some of the ways in which Lipscomb hopes to tackle that issue in his local area. Mainly, he said LGBT Detroit will continue its existing programming and use resources like Creating Change to refine them to be used best in order to provide a helpful, beneficial, #SafeBraveSpace.
“I think people come to us for a number of reasons. If you’re a young adult, you’re coming here for some kind of organizational development. And we have people, who I believe are highly culturally competent, who understand that people need space like this so people can feel free to express themselves without worrying if they are communicating effectively or properly,” he said. “We know how it is when an ‘other’ comes into a room. I’ve been an ‘other’ in a room and I know what that’s like.”
And though Lipscomb said he can’t provide a full measure of improvement since the organization was founded, he said it’s always fulfilling when it meets benchmarked efforts through attaining funding for programming and community outreach. Perhaps the biggest measure of success, he said, is the aid that LGBT Detroit received via community supporters — something which he said he is confident the organization will maintain.
“We serve at the pleasure of the movement. We exist because someone believes we have something to offer,” Lipscomb said. “We have made progress because when we were beginning the development of LGBT Detroit and not even understanding the glossary of community building or fundraising and were really green, it took our friends to see our vulnerability and to say we’re going to grab your hand and take you along. Because, for black and brown people, it’s very unusual work and that’s why the work is very vulnerable; it’s very hard to be gay and for many, it’s a death sentence. There was progress because there was this intent to see the value of diversity and to stand behind issues so that we all win.”
LGBT Detroit is located at 20025 Greenfield Road in Detroit. Find out more information about the organization online at lgbtdetroit.org. The organization’s Executive Director Curtis Lipscomb will be presenting workshop on preserving the memory of Detroit’s gay spaces at LGBT Detroit on Saturday, Jan. 26 at the Mackinaw West room on the 5th floor of the Marriott in Detroit’s Renaissance Center. Find out more on creatingchange.org.