On June 28, 1969, police raided The Stonewall Inn in New York City and arrested 13 people. At the time, New York City refused to grant licenses to bars that served members of the LGBT community. This allowed police to enter bars without warning to harass and arrest their patrons. On that night, the patrons got fed up and fought back, throwing rocks, bricks, and shot glasses. The riots continued on for three days, sparking the LGBT Equal Rights Movement.
Today, in the Great Lakes Bay Region, the fight for equal rights looks much different.
The Bay City-based group Perceptions leads the charge, offering support, discussion groups, social gatherings, scholarships, a festival, and more, to build understanding and tolerance in communities throughout the Thumb and Mid-Michigan.
To learn more about getting involved with Perceptions as a member of the LGBT community or as an ally, please visit www.perceptionsmi.org
Michigan has long been a leader in the LGBT fight for equality.
In March 1972, East Lansing issued the first-ever antidiscrimination ordinance inclusive of sexual orientation in U.S. history. In June, the first-ever "Lesbian-Gay Pride Week Proclamation" by any government body in the country was issued by the City Council of Ann Arbor, and two members of Ann Arbor’s City Council became the first openly gay public office holders in the United States.
The Ann Arbor City Council made history again in 1974 when Kathy Kozachenko became the country's first openly gay candidate to win public office.
In 2016, Bay City became the 43rd Michigan city to pass anti-discrimination legislation when the Bay City Commission voted unanimously to pass the ordinance. Bay City is only one of four cities north of I-96 with such legislation. In January 2019, an executive order prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in all areas of state government employment was signed.
The free, family-friendly Great Lakes Bay Pride Festival brings together art, retail, food, and resource vendors from around the region.
Kathleen LaTosch, owner and principal consultant of LaTosch Diversity & Inclusion Consulting, works in Michigan and across the country to help organizations achieve their diversity and inclusion change goals with practical action plans.
“Our recent LGBT Aging Initiative has helped connect people all across the state - lifting up support in areas like Marquette, Escanaba, and Grand Rapids. We have also provided behind-the-scenes support to Lansing, Benton Harbor, and Flint. Good things are happening around the state and will continue to happen with our newly-elected state leadership.” LaTosch added.
“From a social standpoint, we have some amazing activists and champions working around the state to keep LGBTQ people safe in their communities. Like Chris Laukner at Perceptions. He has been truly amazing in his work for supports for LGBTQ people in the Great Lakes Bay & Thumb Region.”
Chris Laukner is the Executive Director of Perceptions. He became involved with Perceptions in 2005 following the death of his first partner, Chris. “I needed to be with a community that I could identify with; Perceptions is where I turned for support and became somewhat involved. In 2007, I met my husband, Greg Gwaltney, and we became deeply involved and committed to Perceptions.”
Perceptions is an LGBTQ+ resource group whose mission is to provide inclusive sexual orientation and gender identity/expression education, advocacy, networking, and resources to individuals in the Great Lakes Bay Region.
Estimates are that about 21,000 LGBT people live in the Great Lakes Bay Region. Perceptions serves a wide area, extending from the Thumb to Isabella County.
“As with all organizations, individuals come and go as they have personal needs and those needs are met. There are also those individuals who wish to be long-lived advocates of Perceptions and LGBTQ+ and ally issues as they affect and influence the national, state, and local level," Lauckner said.
"I believe the Pride flag is not just about being LGBTQ+ and securing human rights, it is about anyone who feels marginalized and people who believe and wish to act on the importance of diversity and inclusion. Over the course of years, Perceptions continues to drive home its mission: Providing inclusive sexual orientation and gender identity/expression [SOGIE] education, advocacy, networking, and resources to individuals and organizations in the Great Lakes Bay Region."
The Great Lakes Pride Festival is Sunday, June 29 in Wenonah Park.
Scott Ellis, director of the Great Lakes Bay Pride Festival and a member of the board of Perceptions, said Perceptions helps with an array of issues.
“We provide resources and referrals to people in need," Ellis said. “We field phone calls from individuals facing domestic violence situations at home, people who are having questions about religious affiliations, who can they go see for health care, how can they find clothing for a job interview. We work with the elderly population to identify safe spaces where they can age comfortably and free from discrimination.”
The audience for Perceptions is large. “The numbers say we have about 21,000LGBTQ+ people in the Great Lakes Bay Region. That number is based on national averages, as population statistics always are,” said Ellis.
“Perceptions covers an area from Huron and Tuscola Counties through Isabella County and beyond. We have people from Northeastern Michigan who are traveling upwards of 1.5 to 2 hours to attend our monthly meetings."
Some of those people may make the trip to Bay City on Sunday, June 29, for the Great Lakes Bay Pride Festival, which will be held in Wenonah Park from noon to 5 p.m. A free, family-friendly event, the festival brings together art, retail, food, and resource vendors from around the region.
Activities begin at 9 a.m. with an All-Faith Worship Service at the Trinity Episcopal Church. Performances throughout the day will include The Harmony Diversity Choir, Jen Naegele, the Bay City Player’s cast of Cabaret, Andrew Kitzman, Kristine Goodwin. A Rocky Horror Performance begins at 3:25 pm. Click here for the schedule.
Pride Festival includes musical performances throughout the day.
The evening will draw to a close in Saginaw at the Dow Event Center where an After-Party Drag Show will be held. Doors open at 9 p.m. and the show begins at 10 p.m.
While society has come a long way since the 1969 Stonewall riots, there is more work to be done. Perceptions is working to make the Great Lakes Bay Region more welcoming to members of the transexual community. Perceptions hosts a transgender group for all transgender, intersex, gender non-conforming people, and their allies the first Thursday of each month from 6-8 p.m. at Unity of Bay City, 3736 State Street Rd.
“As a young white gay man, I know there was a point in time when a lot of thought was given to that, but as we become a more inclusive and affirming community, we think less about that. I can’t say that I’ve ever thought twice about going anywhere here, but I’ve heard from many people in the trans community that going anywhere outside of what is sanctioned as LGBT-affirming can be unnerving because you don’t know what to expect,” said Ellis.
To learn more about getting involved with Perceptions as a member of the LGBTQ+ community or as an ally, please click here to visit the Perceptions website