LGBTQ Bookstores RIP

Yesterday, December 31, 2018, marked the official last day* for Common Language Bookstore in Ann Arbor.  In November, owners Keith Orr and Martin Contreras announced they were closing up shop at the end of the year.  In mid-December, Between The Lines hosted a farewell party to thank Martin and Keith for their years of devotion, keeping the store open long after most other queer bookstores in the country have gone out of business.

For the first time in more than four decades, Michigan has no LGBTQ bookstore.

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Giving a Rat’s Ass about LGBTQ History, 2018 edition

My grandfather loved to tell stories of yesteryear.  In conversation, he would often ask “Why should I give a rat’s ass?” as if out of the blue.  Although I was never sure if his salty language came from growing up in Michigan’s Thumb or from working in Flint’s factories, I came to understand his storytelling as a significant means of conveying personal values, culture, and history to his grandkids.

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Barb Remembers

“These are not numbers, but people I loved and cared about,” Michigan State alum Jon Nalley wrote in a 1991 affidavit, explaining that his ACT UP civil disobedience grew from the loss of twelve college friends to AIDS.  Michigan LGBTQ Remember featured these twelve individuals for World AIDS Day last year.

For 2018, the site and this blog commemorate twelve other Michiganders lost to HIV/AIDS, all from Metro Detroit, who are specially remembered by Barbara Murray: Anthony Caputo, Chester Cislo, James Drain, Jeff Kucharsk, Tom Bartley, Jim Proffitt, Doug Pizzala, Tim Warner, Jim Beates, Scott McCready, Robin Ware, and Dan Stoepker.

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My Coming Out Story

In late 1991 or early 1992, I took training to be part of the speakers’ bureau for the Lesbian-Gay Male Program Office, now called the Spectrum Center, at the University of Michigan.

It was a rigorous weekend of sharing and self-reflection conducted by Billie Edwards and Jim Toy.  The final project for the half dozen or so of us in attendance was to draft, refine, and practice our Coming Out Story, a narrative of how we came to see ourselves as gay or lesbian (bi and trans experiences were not yet fully on the radar).  The stories we crafted would serve as the bases for visiting classes.  In the early 1990s, in many instances, we remained novelties for straight people.

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LGBTQ Diaries

For historians of the LGBTQ past, having access to a personal diary is akin to striking gold.

The surviving diaries of Charles Tomlinson Griffes add enriching detail to Gay New York by George Chauncey.  Diaries of Anne Lister and Mary Benson were invaluable sources for Intimate Friends by Martha Vicinus.  The extensive diary of Carter Bealer proved indispensable to understanding the early gay geography of Washington, DC in A Queer Capital by Genny Beemyn.

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Censored Art, Censored Lives

In 1990, two years after the first National Coming Out Day, I came out for the first time in print.  I was terrified.

The venue was a small publication called briX, published by the Greater Flint Arts Council.  As “a collection of art and ideas,” briX included poetry, short fiction, essays, and the brilliant one-panel cartoons of local artist Patrick Hardin.

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