By Meghan Christian
The Equality Caucus of Genesee County hosted a weekend of events beginning June 9 with Rainbow in Retro, a historical exhibit gathered by Flint native Tim Retzloff, to demonstrate the rich history of LGBTQ people in Flint and ending June 11 with an Equality March downtown. The events served to gain greater visibility for the Flint LGBTQ community–especially significant since June is Pride Month, culminating locally with a festival June 24 at Riverbank Park.
The Equality Caucus formed in 2015, after Nicole Derusha-Mackey, founder and chairperson, worked on Congressman Kildee’s reelection campaign in 2014. The caucus is the first known group of its kind at the county level in the state, according to Derusha-Mackey, and those involved work to politically engage the LGBTQ community in and around Flint.
Hosted at the Flint Local 432, the Rainbow in Retro event culminated in a moderated discussion with Grace Bacon, 76, a transgender activist who established Crossroads, an organization that started as a support group for crossdressers, in 1977. When approached about restaging his exhibit, Retzloff knew that he wanted someone like Bacon present.
“I immediately thought of the idea of not only having something that people could come see, but I thought it was really important for folks to actually hear the history from the people who created the history,” Retzloff said.
Bacon, who was born in Flint in 1940 and raised in Swartz Creek, gave audiences members a brief history of her life and insight into what life was like for members of the LGBTQ community. Bacon, like many others, said she can recall feeling different at an early age.
“At the time I was two and a half, I knew I was different from what I was supposed to be. At the time, my father would hold me; his beard was like a file and his suit was like sandpaper. I didn’t like that. I didn’t want to grow up to be that. But I did and there wasn’t a heck of a lot I could do about it,” said Bacon.
From there, Bacon recounted more of her childhood memories where she realized that she was different, including when she first discovered that there might be other people like her. At the age of twelve, Bacon came across the story of Christine Jorgensen in a copy of American Weekly. Jorgensen was the first person to become known throughout the country as having sex reassignment surgery.
“I remember seeing the American Weekly article about Christine Jorgensen and I said, ‘Oh my god, that’s me.’ And it was a moment of epiphany that has lasted ever since then,” said Bacon.
This epiphany led Bacon to establish Crossroads in 1977. The group began as a support group for crossdressers and as a way for Bacon to discover more about not only herself, but others as well.
“Why I wanted to put together an organization was to meet other people, and to find my place on the transgender/transsexual spectrum, so that I knew exactly where I was in comparison to the others,” said Bacon.
Crossroads eventually grew to be one of the largest groups of its kind in the country and motivated others to start similar groups across the nation. The founders of those groups often name Bacon as the motivating force behind these groups. Bacon, however, is just glad to use her platform to educate.
“They gave me a platform and from that platform I wanted to educate as much as I could to as many people as I could,” said Bacon.
Because of that dedication to educating the masses and being an active voice in trans-activism, Bacon was presented with a legislative tribute from the LGBT caucus of the Michigan House OF Representatives. Tributes like these are awarded to individuals or groups that have contributed above and beyond to not only their community, but also to the state of Michigan.
“It’s nice to be recognized, but it’s nice to be recognized for something valuable,” said Bacon.
Toward the end of her talk, Bacon offered her comments on the current political climate, especially as it is geared toward members of the LGBTQ community, and was met with roaring applause.
“I represent a lot of stripes in the LGBT flag: I am transgender, of course, I am bisexual, I am elderly, I am disabled, I am a veteran, and all of these categories are under fire from Washington right now. We have a government that was formed as a rebellion against tyranny. That government now has become a tyrant in itself and we have a civic duty to resist.”
For many who attended, events like this are incredibly important. Drew Marsh, Davison native and legislative assistant for State Representative Tim Sneller, sees events like these as a way for LGBTQ youth to feel connected to their history and to understand that they do, in fact, have a history.
“Events that connect a community with its past are essential. Not only does it educate, but it shows how much a community has come. It also shows…today’s younger people what the community has been through, which without events like this, can be easily lost,” Marsh said.
Two days later, on June 11, the Equality Caucus of Genesee County hosted an Equality March for unity and pride. The march began in front of city hall and ended at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The march coincided with other marches happening across the country as a grassroots movement to mobilize LGBTQ individuals and allies to show support for one another and to peacefully protest the current political landscape that is discriminating toward these individuals.
Once at St. Paul’s, many speakers offered words of support to the LGBTQ community. Some also gave pleas for those in attendance to get involved and to let their voices be heard in response to current legislation.
“What I encourage you to do is to get involved on a local level, the state level, and the federal level. We’ve got to work hard… and we have to work that much harder to make sure that people who don’t understand our issues…are given all of the information. Because fairness is not a debatable issue,” Sneller said.
In closing, Father Dan Scheid from St. Paul’s, commented on the importance of having events such as the Equality March in church settings because many have not always been welcoming to the LGBTQ community, but also because, he said, it is simply the right thing to do.
“And on this day, in this month, especially, we celebrate those who are in the LGBTQ community, those who stand as allies, and we invite all those who need to be nudged along and welcomed because it is a great place to be. Equality and justice is a great place to reside,” Scheid said.
Pride Month locally will culminate with the Flint Pride festival, to be held from 2-8 p.m. Saturday, June 24 in Riverbank Park. The seventh annual event, coordinated by Flint Wellness Services, will include live music, food, merchandise booths, children’s activities and educational information.
EVM Managing Editor Meghan Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.