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Detroit Takes Care of Their Own

Detroit Takes Care of Their Own

Despite a slumping economy, Detroit automakers find ways to take care of their LGBT employees. Affirmations, which was founded in 1989 on the philosophy that "gay is good, you are not alone," strives to create an atmosphere of safety and acceptance for all people.  Their focus is on helping lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals find and develop community where they value and respect themselves and others.

During my recent trip to Detroit for the annual auto show, I questioned how the big automakers felt about the LBGT community. Clearly the car industry is the main employer for residents (gay and straight) of the Motor City, so I wondered how they give back to our community and how the slumping economy is impacting our community there.

Travis Parman, a PR guy with General Motors, who specifically focuses on diversity outreach (code for gay and minority) answered many of my questions and introduced me to several GM employees who were gay, lesbian or transgender. They unanimously told stories of their support and acceptance during their tenure at GM, who brags of a strong GLBT employee group, which meet regularly to discuss issues and socialize.

Additionally, Parman pointed me toward Affirmations (goaffirmations.org), a nonprofit organization which serves people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in Ferndale, a city at the northern border of Detroit. GM, along with the Ford and Chrysler each donated $250,000 to get the new facility built. Since, GM has also donated an additional $50K to help with operating expenses.

Housed in a state-of-the-art, 17,000- square-foot multi-use facility, Affirmations is the hub of the community, celebrating wellness, personal growth and development. Because of its ability to change and meet community needs, Affirmations, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, has become not only the largest LGBT organization in Michigan, but also one of the ten largest in the United States.

The doors opened to Affirmations in spring of 2007. The new building design included environmentally-friendly features (sky lights and automatic lights), a cyber cafe with 15 public-access computers and free wireless internet, a beautiful 2-story art gallery, an outdoor rooftop sky deck, library (books are on an honor system) and a media center.

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It’s the kind of place you WANT to hang out – and many people do. They offer a vast range of programs to serve our community, from toddler play groups, to yoga, to youth proms, to leather club meet ups.

Touring the facility, I was amazed at how well they designed it for multi-purpose use. When asked about all the groups that benefit from the center, Annual Giving Manager Carmen Garcia mentioned their nationally renowned youth services program; health services program, 12 step support groups, and Social and Recreational activities.  She also cited resources at the center including a toll-free helpline, the Pittmann-Puckett Art Gallery, Game Room, General Motors Foundation Media Center, Bayard Rustin Library and a volunteer and leadership development program.

Affirmations, which was founded in 1989 on the philosophy that "gay is good, you are not alone," strives to create an atmosphere of safety and acceptance for all people.  Their focus is on helping lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals find and develop community where they value and respect themselves and others. Other cities should take the cue from the model of Affirmations; from the way the funds are raised (locally), to the infrastructure and functionality of the facility, to the services they provide.

Garcia, who oversees high wealth giving, did acknowledge that donations, both corporate and individual, are down the past few quarters. Many people in Detroit (and elsewhere) have lost their jobs, and as a result, they have seen a jump in Affirmations traffic. People are coming to use their computers for job searches, to pull clothes to fight the tough Detroit winter and for comradery as they navigate these tough economic times.

My last night in Detroit, I attended a gay automotive media party. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I wondered - really, how many of us can there be? Well, to my surprise, there were at least 50 in attendance – and they spanned the spectrum from core trade publications, to mainstream lifestyle outlets. I was one of only two women, however, which did confirm that it’s still very much a boy’s industry. Overall, I found Detroit to be welcoming and friendly in an almost small town way. The numerous vacant buildings through the city speak of the economic woes they face, but the community seemed united and hopeful nevertheless.

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Jenn Kennedy