LGBTQ Anniversaries

Since elementary school, I’ve had an obsession with anniversaries.

Chalk it up to Batman, begun by Bob Kane in Detective Comics no. 27 in May 1939, accused of queer deviance by one Fredric Wertham in the book Seduction of the Innocent and in testimony before a congressional investigative committee in the 1950s.  Something homo going on with that Robin kid.

When I began drawing my own characters—Ralph Rabbit when I was ten and Captain Vos when I was thirteen—I was ever mindful of the anniversaries of their creation: July 12, 1974 for my cartoon bunny; March 25, 1977 for the first issue of my junior high comic book.

In our lives, birthdays and anniversaries serve as personal markers.  They provide moments of reflection, times to try to fathom the fathoms of time that have gone by.

Holy #%@&!  Has it been 25 years since the 1993 March on Washington?  And 20 years since the Ypsilanti Campaign for Equality?  (Or, on a more personal level, 10 years since my mom died and 5 years since we lost my brother Chris?)

We honor wedding anniversaries with traditional gifts: paper for the 1st, tin for the 10th, china for the 20th, silver for the 25th, and gold for the 50th.  When Henry Messer and Carl House celebrated their 50 years together, they received congratulations from then-governor John Engler.  In error.  The proclamation slipped through the bureaucratic cracks.  Heh heh.

Anniversaries are also key ways that we collectively remember the past.  Mass media produces feature stories.  Museums stage exhibits.  Universities sponsor “theme semesters.”  Libraries present lectures and panel discussions and documentaries.

Back when I worked at the Flint Public Library in the 1980s, librarians at the reference desk kept Chase’s Calendar of Events close at hand.  First compiled in 1957 by former Flint Journal librarian William Chase, the volume provides a compendium of eventful dates.

Anniversaries serve as useful hooks for telling stories.  History by calendar.  So, we need to remember our queer anniversaries to help tell LGBTQ stories.

One reason the Stonewall Riots of 1969 are seen as so pivotal to the LGBTQ movement is that Oscar Wilde Bookshop owner Craig Rodwell and others purposely sought to remember them with a march and rally one year later.  And hundreds, then thousands, then millions have continued to do so with Pride celebrations in the years since.

Next year marks the 50th.

Visit Affirmations in Ferndale and linger for a while at the mural by the stairs to take in the timeline.

Milestone years, of course, get the most attention.  So, as we near the midpoint of 2018, I offer some Michigan LGBTQ anniversaries to remember, helping to build our own Chase’s.

1938
Ruth Ellis moved to Detroit from Springfield, Illinois and Prophet Jones moved to Detroit from Birmingham, Alabama.

1943
Detroit Police shut down Club Frontenac, charging that its floor shows were “indecent” and its employees were “perverts.”

1948
Michigan Liquor Control Commission issued regulation prohibiting bars from becoming “rendezvous” for homosexuals.

1953
Dean of Women Deborah Bacon pressured two female students to withdraw from their undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan after classmates see them kissing.

1958
Activists establish a Detroit chapter of the Mattachine Society with a meeting at the Fort-Shelby Hotel.

1963
A Detroit Free Press feature on Chinatown noted the “raucous female impersonators” performing at the Gold Dollar.

1968
A Detroit News article profiled the work of ONE in Detroit to provide support for area homosexuals.

1973
The Gay Radio Collective began broadcasting Gayly Speaking on WDET-FM in Detroit.
A lesbian couple from Lapeer won custody of their children in a landmark appellate case.

1978
Metro Gay News ceased publication after 21 months.
Students elected Dan Jones as the first openly-gay president of student government at Michigan State University.

1983
State Representative Jim Dressel of Holland introduced H.B. 5000 to add sexual orientation as a protected category under Michigan’s Eliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Activists form Wellness Networks, later AIDS Partnership Michigan, to combat the AIDS epidemic.

1988
The National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays moved its headquarters to Detroit.
Thousands attended a display of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt at Cobo Hall.

1993
Mark Weinstein, who now goes by MaxZine Weinstein, launched Between The Lines out of the Heiwa House cooperative in Ann Arbor.  (For BTL’s 20th in 2013, I reflected on the paper’s first years.)
University of Michigan regents amended Bylaw 14.06 to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

1998
Ypsilanti voters turned back a ballot effort to repeal the city’s non-discrimination ordinance.
A transgender graduate of the Birch Run schools filed suit to change the sex designated on his transcript.

2003
The American Family Association of Michigan and state lawmakers targeted David Halperin’s “How to Be Gay” course at the University of Michigan.
Two teenaged students in the Tawas Area Schools faced anti-gay harassment and death threats.

2008
The Kalamazoo City Council voted unanimously to expand its civil rights ordinance to include protections based on sexual orientation.
Michiganders in four cities protested passage of Proposition 8 in California banning same-sex marriage.

2013
Detroit City Council president Charles Pugh resigned amid allegations that he had an inappropriate relationship with a male minor.
Royal Oak voters approved a city ordinance protecting residents from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Each year has its own particular LGBTQ anniversaries, queer dates to showcase, to commemorate, to remember.

Tim Retzloff

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