A Gathering Of Voices

Last Thursday marked National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11), a time to celebrate and be proud of being gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgendered, and during a rally of sorts at Affirmations in Ferndale it was also a time to recognize the LGBT community's young leaders who are in a postition to reach out to those who haven't yet found their voices.
 
The Affirmations event, boasting a standing room only crowd, brought together a mix of ages, races and backgrounds to talk about how to further what many see as a civil rights cause, and to talk about how to welcome more people into the movement, to support them, to build a community that erases boundaries and to figure out how to reach out to people who may be suffering, ostracized, or hating themselves in silence.
 
The gathering capped the Young Leaders of Color Visibility Project that told the stories of young leaders of color in the LGBT community in hopes of illustrating their value to Metro Detroit and beyond, inside their communities and out. The 18- month-long project came out of a partnership of Between the Lines newspaper and Model D media and made possible through the Hope Fund of the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan.
 
Dr. Marjorie Hill, a mentor and leader in the LGBT community nationwide, came to town from New York City, where she is director of the Gay Men's Health Crisis, to share the story of her journey of coming out as a lesbian and her knowledge of working with the LGBT community. She has been assistant commissioner for the Bureau of HIV/AIDS at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and director of the New York City Mayor's Office for the Lesbian and Gay Community in the David Dinkins' Administration. She spoke about living through a time when non-medical hospital workers would refuse to enter the room of an HIV or AIDS patient. She recounted the story of a friend, Lorraine, who lived and died through the most feared times of the disease.
 
"We've come a long way since Lorraine's death…sort of. There's still an amazingly outrageous stigma to HIV/AIDS," she said.
 
While HIV/AIDS has reached a stable number of cases with about 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year, one segment is increasing: young gay men, young black gay men especially.
 
She said the role of young leaders can be to educate, to spread the word that the threat is real and to make sure to seek out "the person of trans experience who feels despised … the young lesbian whose mother says you have to straighten up or get out of here.
 
"When we start to value those who are around us they start to value themselves," she said. "I want to make sure we hear and pay attention to these stories."
 
Hill also sought to inspire the next generation of leadership."Young leaders are not going to be young always … They're going to grow to be even more fierce, even more wonderful…then make room for more young leaders to follow."
 
Introducing the next generation of leadership
 
Kibibi Blount Dorn is a 31-year-old lesbian, and mother of a 4-year-old son. She is a longtime advocate for racial and generational cooperation, and healthy lifestyle choices. Providing fresh health food to the masses stokes her passion to help and make change. As program manager for the Detroit Food Policy Council she works to provide nourishing food to the community and to help food providers get their product out. You can read her story here.
 
Marlin Colyer, who turned 30 on Coming Out Day, says that he is grateful that he's in a position to help, to show compassion, spread knowledge and promote awareness. He wants to show LGBTs, especially young black men that they are "magnificent." As a leader at KICK, an agency for LGBT African Americans, he gets the chance to support men and women who may feel cast off or who may be taking risks with their health and safety in exchange for feeling loved and safe. Read his story here.
 
Bre' Campbell is a 26-year-old trans who knows the judgement, even cruelty a transgendered person encounters. She knew from a young age that she identified as a female rather than a male and that her dream was to marry a man and have a family... but not as a gay man. After a year's long awakening she began the medical procedures to become her mother's other daughter. But unlike many transgendered individuals, had full support from family and a community. That community can come with challenges though to the public's perception of transgendered, especially, the tendency of trans to be involved in sex work. It's a perception and a reality she wants to talk about publicly and change so that other transgendered men and women can be understood and accepted.
 
"What we are doing right now is shattering people's belief systems," she said. Read her story here
 
Tony Johnson is often regarded as a leader even though he is not officially heading up an agency, organization or even a loose-knit network. He leads by doing, volunteering at KICK and other organizations, and sharing his story about being HIV positive and a U.S. military veteran. He is a founding member of a support group for HIV positive veterans.Read his story here.
 
Rosemary Linares, a 29-year-old Latina who's married and bi-sexual, has been an advocate for the LGBTQ community since she was a teen and has gone on to put extended higher education to work in social justice. She's formed and led several groups that have made a difference in the lives of people in the LGBTQ and Hispanic communities. It's raised awareness and let people become comfortable with their differences. Read her story at here.
 
A call for community leadership
 
Detroit City Councilman Charles Pugh rallied the crowd as the evening ended, telling the room "This is a wonderful discussion that is quite encouraging to see our younger generation take up the mantle."
 
He talked about the Step Up or Shut Up campaign that seeks to involve LGBT's in government and other civic and community groups
 
"We need you to step outside the borders of this community to have the impact…and change hearts and minds…and also affect policy by having a say."
 
"Be on decision making boards and commissions that need a person like you.

"Being council president," he said, giving his phone number 313-224-4510, "I'm everybody's council president. I'm also an out gay man so i'm helping to change the future of this city for everybody."

Kim North Shine is Metromode's Development News editor and a Grosse Pointe-based freelance writer.