Tag Archives: the gays

Against marriage, against the family: The platform of Michigan’s Republican Party

December 23, 2011 was the day Governor Snyder signed into a law that stripped the domestic partners of many public employees of their health benefits.  It was also the day I finally lost patience with Gov. Snyder.  I’ve appreciated the Governor’s reluctance to pander to the bottom feeders known as ‘social conservatives’ that dominate his Republican majorities in the legislature.  But in signing this bill the Governor finally gave in to his party’s worst instincts, revealing that he’s just been paying lip service all along,  happy to discard his veneer of tolerance when it became politically inconvenient.

Why they are doing this?  We’re an easy target, and making our lives difficult is an easy way to score points with the vocal & significant percentage of the Republican base that hates us.  They can’t undo Lawrence v. Texas, they can’t ban us from serving in uniform any longer, & they can’t round us up & put us in concentration camps.  This seemed like the easiest way to put us in our place.  This has zero to do with saving money, by the way.  That excuse is a fig leaf for Republicans like Snyder, who know that outright bigotry no longer plays as well with the public at large.

(I focus specifically on Republicans because on the domestic partner benefits issue there were exactly one Democrat apiece in the House & Senate who voted for the domestic partner benefits issue:  Sen. Tupac Hunter & Rep. Richard LeBlanc.  No Republicans in either house voted against.)

Republican voters, and the leaders they elect, like to paint themselves as defenders of marriage and of the family.  I think we are getting better at emphasizing that ‘social conservative’ leaders don’t give a damn about saving marriages or families, they just want to punish people like me for the unforgivable sin of finding romantic happiness. Our task is to heighten the cognitive dissonance experienced by Republicans like my cousins on one side of the family, who love watching shows like Glee and have never made me or my partner feel unwelcome, but who want to sidestep the consequences of the votes they cast.

Our ability to fight back is further constrained by Michigan’s political dynamics.  We are clustered in safe Democratic districts so Republican legislators have no reason to even acknowledge our existence.  They have nothing to lose – certainly not our votes.

In this we have a lot in common with black Michiganders, though I know a lot of black people bristle when sexual minorities draw comparisons between our situations.  Like black Michiganders, we are almost entirely a Democratic constituency.  The rage at PA 4 that has erupted in majority-black communities reflects their realization that with all three branches of state government in Republican control, they are effectively powerless. When the anti-PA 4 activists complain that the act subverts the democratic process, they forget that the democratic process is no friend to them, either: Majoritarian democracy has no inherent protection for minorities.

And we accept it.  The political impotence of Michigan’s sexual minorities is partly a function of our learned helplessness.  But it’s also partly due to our own apathy.  For lots of us, especially when we’re young and uncommitted and have so many other pressing concerns, marriage equality and the family are abstract concepts. And it can seem frivolous to donate money for causes like marriage equality when sexual minorities in so much of the non-Western world face more severe challenges in their own societies.

I myself have been guilty of apathy.  While I supported marriage and adoption equality, neither was much of a priority to me until I finally ended up in a committed long-term relationship & started to have something economic at stake.  Once I began to face decisions about health insurance, tax deductions, estate planning, I began to understand why I could no longer sit on the sidelines.

Last Wednesday two examples of grassroots political activism were juxtaposed in a way that I found both illustrative and frustrating.  One was, of course, the SOPA/PIPA blackouts.  My Facebook feed erupted in a way I don’t think I’d ever seen before, with anti-SOPA/PIPA posts from what seemed like half of my contacts.  Not since the Obama campaign had my Millenial peers, in particular, seemed so politically engaged.

The day of action at the state Capitol protesting the domestic partner benefits ban, in contrast, seemed to get hardly any attention at all except from certain LGBT  organizations like Equality Michigan & Affirmations.  Even the gay football team the Michigan Panthers, who I follow on Facebook, didn’t make a peep.

I felt a wee bit guilty for not taking the day off work to join the protest. That feeling grew stronger when at the day’s end, I read the post* by autBar’s owner Keith Orr reporting back on the event:

(I)f we are going to make an impact, we need more than the 250 people who showed up to work for the cause… (W)e need our straight allies to “come out of the closet”. They need to be active and vocal about our civil rights.

But we can’t expect it of them if we don’t do it ourselves… (I)t felt very real chanting “Gay Families Matter”.

But we need a bigger “family”…

We have to make them care.

And we have to get our friends and family to care.

I agree with Keith Orr that we can do better.  Today, we’re getting another chance to get it right, as a lesbian couple in Hazel Park sued to overturn the state’s ban on adoption by unmarried couples.  You know Attorney General Bill Schuette, whose hatred and contempt for people who aren’t straight is unsurpassed among state elected officials, will fight this suit every step of the way.

If you’re upset by this post and starting to feel a bit guilty yourself, head over to one of the following websites and donate to one or more of the organizations who are fighting hard against the Republican legislature’s agenda of hate:

And if you live in a state legislative district represented by a Republican, or you yourself are a Republican, it’s even more important that you contact your Republican legislator or your party leadership to let them know that what they are doing is not OK.  It’s time to stop systematically undermining families and condoning hate. The Party has to do better.

*H/T the Ann Arbor Chronicle


A bar is born (& an old one reborn)

The old ball & chain & I headed out to Backstreet this past Saturday night.  Arguably the city of Detroit’s flagship gay bar, it closed a couple of years ago but was recently reopened by the owners/managers of Ice.

The new Backstreet holds a special distinction: According to their website, “no other gay bar in Michigan has a 4am dance permit.”  We were gone by 2, as I’m in bed by 1am most Saturday nights.  But if I were 18 again, I imagine I’d be pretty excited about it.

They redid the interior nicely (although the potted palms are a bit much).    Cocktails were overpriced ($9 for a Sapphire & tonic, no lime) & I’d advise against the $15 pitcher of Long Islands, which tastes like poison.  The DJ played an unusual amount of hip-hop for a gay bar, which, hey, not really my thing. The parking lot appeared to be well-patrolled, which is welcome given the neighborhood.

The place was crowded with guys of a wide range of ages; although skewing slightly to the young & twinky, again, not my bag, there were a lot of good-looking men as well.

They also have a lot of special events lined up in the next couple of months, including lots of top-tier porn actors, which to me suggests it’s being managed well.


Meanwhile, just around the corner from my condo in Ann Arbor, a new neighborhood bar just opened.  The Village Pub is, to my knowledge, the only bar in the vast expanse of strip mall that straddles Washtenaw Avenue from Stadium to east of US 23.  (There are restaurants with liquor licenses but it’s not quite the same.)  I haven’t made it over yet, but I want to make it over soon to check it out.  Even if it ends up being mediocre I suspect I’ll be a regular, just to keep the place open as an option within walking distance.

If you’ve visited either the new Backstreet or Village Pub, share your experience in the comments section.

Updated Williams Institute data

The Williams Institute has taken a second crack at counting our gays.  This one is based on “adjusted data.”  What, you may ask, does it mean to adjust the data?  The Institute explains:

The Census Bureau preferred estimates adjust original Census tabulations… to account for the likelihood that a small portion of different-sex married couples miscode the sex of a spouse and are incorrectly counted as a same-sex couple.

The Census only releases adjusted state-level data, so for the county-level estimates the attempt at adjustment was performed by Williams Institute demographer Gary Gates & his team.

So, did the process change the results?  A little bit.  First, we have updated national maps of the distribution by county, which based on a cross-check of Michigan counties with the previous county map, appears to reflect slightly more intuitive distributions.    It’s still interesting how sparse the gays seem to be in the Midwest compared to the Coasts & the Sunbelt.  South Dakota and northern Wisconsin have particularly odd distributions which, to me, suggest there is still some weird statistical stuff going on in this data for rural areas, which have very low denominators.Looks like adjusting has moved MI up a few spots in the state rankings (4, from #43 to #39, to be precise):

It also pushed Lansing and Ann Arbor further up the list of mid-sized cities ranked by same-sex couples per 1000 households.  Lansing moved up 4 spots to #15, and Tree Town moved up 3 to #20:That’s all I got for now, folks.  The Williams Institute’s website appears to be down today, so I can’t check for additional updates to the data.





Counting the gays

Dr. Gary Gates & his team at the Williams Institute have started releasing analyses of the 2010 Census results for same-sex couples.

Let’s look at the summary for Michigan first.

Sadly, it’s is ranked 43rd among all the states (plus DC) for number of same-sex couples per 1000 households.  Washington, DC is first, Vermont second; the Dakotas 49th and 50th. The Great Lakes region & the Upper Midwest in general don’t do so hot on this measure;  apparently the gays don’t much fancy living here.  An alternate explanation is that, for whatever reason, gays are less likely to live together in the same household here.

On a county level, you get the highest densities of same-sex couples per 1000 households in the Tree Town area (Washtenaw County) and in Ingham County, another place I used to live.  However, when you look at this measure at the municipal level, you find that, as expected, the gays are crowded into southeast Oakland County along Woodward between 8 and 13 Mile.

Here’s what it looks like at the census tract level:

But of course it’s the boys we really care about:

Our mid-sized cities are gayer than Detroit by this measure:

Lansing, Land of Lesbians is #19, Ann Arbor at #23.

If you haven’t already figured it out, this is a lousy way to measure how gay an area is.  Consider the national map:

The proportion of same-sex couples matters a lot less than the absolute numbers.  Which sounds like a better place to find other gays — 8 gay couples in a county with 1,000 households, or 500 gay couples in a county with 100,000 households?  In the New York Times story on the Williams Institute data,  both interviewees for and commentators on the story were rightfully cynical about this measure;  it is intuitive that you just can not compare a large city like San Francisco to a tiny one like Pleasant Ridge.   Nor does it make sense to use the incorporated place as your level of analysis, as opposed to the metropolitan area.  I am not sure why the Williams Institute places such emphasis on this peculiar measure.

To his credit, Gates acknowledges that the Census data is just not cutting it.  As he explains in an op-ed for the Washington Post, we need to find more refined metrics:

I’ve attended dozens of meetings with representatives from federal statistical agencies to ask them why they are not counting the LGBT population. They tell me that they worry about survey respondents refusing to answer such questions or, even worse, terminating the survey. They also wonder exactly what questions to ask…

The Ford Foundation recently funded a five-year study in which scholars… concluded that concerns about non-response or survey termination are unfounded. Respondents decline to answer questions about their income much more often than they refuse to provide information about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

As to concerns about what we mean by LGBT, there is no precise definition. Instead, the scholars came to a consensus on a set of questions that measure different aspects of sexual orientation… Not every survey must ask questions about every dimension of sexual orientation and gender identity, but rather they should consider what dimensions make sense to measure, given the purpose of the survey.

A survey designed to measure workplace discrimination, for instance, may focus more on those who publicly identify as LGBT, since it can be difficult to make a case that you are being discriminated against because of your sexual orientation or gender identity unless you’ve been open about it… A survey of younger people might want to focus more on sexual attraction, since many young people have not had any sexual experiences and are not yet comfortable with specific labels of their sexual or gender identity.

In fact, the number of people who self-identify as LGBT can and will differ from the number who say they have same-sex sexual experiences and the number who acknowledge same-sex attractions. Differences in these estimates do not mean we can’t measure the LGBT population with accuracy. Rather, they demonstrate that sexual orientation and gender identity are complex concepts worthy of further study.

If you’re looking for further reading on this topic, our local demographer/ally, Kurt Metzger,  recently produced a nice op-ed on how our state’s policies are lagging behind its reality.

The endangered gay bar?

Slate.com just ran an interesting series of articles by June Thomas on the future of the American gay bar, which got me thinking about my own experiences.  As Thomas describes, the gay bar is a crucial source of acculturation for baby gays:

Unlike other minorities, queers don’t learn about our heritage from our birth families. Bars are our Hebrew school, our CCD, our cotillion. As activist pioneer Dick Leitsch wrote in Gay magazine in September 1970: “Gay bars … teach and enforce the ethics and rules of gay life and pass on traditions and gay culture. One learns how to make out, to use gay slang.”

I was reminded of the very first gay bar I ever went to, an unmarked hole-in-the-wall in a rough part of east side Saginaw called Bambi’s.  I sneaked in occasionally with a friend’s ID from the time I was sixteen until I was able to enter legally at eighteen.  It was the first place I was able to see my peers in their natural habitat, so while it wasn’t much compared to the big city bars I’d experience later, I was always excited to go.  Sadly, when I returned the night before Thanksgiving last fall to show my boyfriend, it appeared it had closed.

It’s been interesting to watch the gay bar scene evolve in the Detroit and Ann Arbor areas since I first moved to Ferndale from Lansing in spring 2007.  Back when I arrived, Backstreet was still the premier gay bar in the city of Detroit.  Ann Arbor was served by Friday nights at Necto, for those who fancy late-night dancing, and by Aut Bar, for those who fancy dining on the patio.

Since then, Backstreet has closed and the rotating gay meetup appears to have replaced it as the hub of nightlife.  Thomas writes,

This sort of event is not popular with gay-bar proprietors. Former owner Elaine Romagnoli told me, “They will empty your room out. Your customers will all go to that event and come back at 3 a.m., when you have an hour to go, and they’re already trashed.”…

In Detroit, many of these are based in greater downtown: see Doggy Style at Park Bar, Fierce Hot Mess at Oslo, as well as most of the Guerrilla Queer Bars.  In the Ann Arbor area, you have the monthly Elbow Deep, now housed at Woodruff’s in Ypsilanti.  As an old might-as-well-be-married couple, my man and I don’t tend to stay out late, especially on weeknights, so I haven’t made it out for most of these and, when we have, we don’t tend to stay long.  (In that respect, I’m really a terrible person to be blogging on this topic!)

A lot of the night life here centers around special events.  Like GQB, these can be refreshing detours to places we’d never experience otherwise.   We recently had an interesting Latin American-flavored night at El Bosque, deep in southwest Detroit, to see RuPaul Drag Race contestant Yara Sofia.  We made it out one night to the old-school, dimly lit R&R Saloon on Michigan Avenue, its walls plastered with Tom of Finland reproductions, for the theme night”Macho City.” And you know you’ll see the same people, plus some new faces, every time Kathy Griffin or Gaga come to town.

One idiosyncrasy of southeast Michigan is that we lack the strong, centralized gayborhoods you see in other metros of our size.  The closest thing we have to it is 9 Mile in Ferndale, with Affirmations, Just 4 Us, Soho, and 9 located within a few blocks of one another.  But Affirmations has been in almost perpetual crisis for the past several years, and for a region of over four million people, this little clutch of institutions is pretty meagre.  Like many Sunbelt boomtowns, Metro Detroit’s gays are very geographically dispersed; consequently, so are our gay bars.  If I were a tourist, I’d find this frustrating (as I previously discussed regarding the Creating Change conference).

As Thomas writes, gay people are feeling more accepted and welcome at bars, restaurants, and other public meeting places in general.  Now that we have more options, I think we are starting to realize how much a lot of gay bars just suck.     I can only sit through the standard Friday night song rotation in the Red Room in Necto’s basement so many times.  (By now I could easily rattle off the set list in a close approximation of the order.)  Aut Bar has kept its set list on the patio to the same rotation of the Indigo Girls, Joni Mitchell (I believe it’s Dog Eat Dog), Joan Osborne, and Verve Remixed CDs every time I’ve visited, the food has been consistently mediocre-to-bad, and the wait staff consistently homely (although friendly, which I guess is more important).  Aut Bar does have the advantage of actually fostering conversation, instead of hindering it with ear-splitting music as many places do.

Anyway, I could devote several posts to nitpicking all the things that drive me nuts about each of our available gay bars. (Though things have got better since they banned indoor smoking at bars and restaurants in Michigan.) So it’s no wonder that more and more, we prefer to socialize at other venues.  New gay bars just don’t seem to be opening up because we already have plenty of options.

Thomas points out another aspect of the old bar-centric culture we shouldn’t necessarily mourn:

We paid a price for making the gay bar the center of the community. A booze joint isn’t always a positive environment. The noise makes conversation difficult, lending outsize importance to physical signifiers, a surefire recipe for shallowness and superficiality. (Homosexual establishments have no monopoly there, of course.) And then there is the alcohol. For all the talk of bars as sanctuaries, they exist to push booze, which can be a devastating force.

Thomas notes that in bigger communities there’s evolved a teetotaling alternative to the gay bar, a rich parallel social universe centering around 12-step meetings.  I can attest, having attended a couple myself when I quit drinking for 2 months last year, that you can find gay-friendly meetings and other events at least a couple of nights a week in the Ann Arbor area.  (In my view, the company is more welcoming than you’ll find at a lot of bars, too.)

Thomas asks, “If the gay bar disappears, where will we learn to dance? Where will we realize that we’re not alone? Where will we go to feel normal? Ultimately, though, I don’t think she needs to fret.   Older, established bars in the suburbs like Soho, Pronto and Liberty Bar seem to continue to do well, and the old-school dive bars in the city itself are managing OK too.  As Detroit’s gays more and more colonize mainstream establishments with mixed clientele, so are Ann Arbor’s traditionally gay establishments attracting more and more straight people.  These days, Pride Fridays at Necto are crowded with straight patrons who just want to dance, and some evenings Aut Bar has even more straight patrons than gay ones dining on the patio.  The strong will survive, as long as there are loyal customers, whether gay or straight, and owners who are willing to stick it out.

P.S.  Another milestone —  I hit 5000 all-time pageviews this week, thanks to “Numbers and beer.”  You people really get excited about beer, I guess.

“The Island of Misfit Toys”

Supergay Detroit debriefs us on Motor City Pride, which returned to Detroit for the first time in decades earlier this month:

The most incredible thing about this Pride was that for the first time since I moved to Detroit, I actually really felt like being gay here was totally normal.  I mean as completely normal as it would be in Chicago or Washington, DC or Boston or anywhere else I’ve lived.  Everywhere you went there were gay people or rainbow flags or just people asking how Pride was going.

In my email to business owners for the Pride Project I said that Motor City Pride moving downtown had the potential to change perceptions about Detroit in a way that hasn’t happened since the Superbowl was here in 2006.  In the way Pride exceeded every expectation, I really believe that was the case.  What I didn’t expect was that it was going to change the way *I* thought about Detroit.

The whole weekend left me feeling a little feisty, like maybe it’s OK to say that something can just be GAY for its own sake without people getting defensive or worrying that people will feel left out.  (It’s Detroit, for God’s sake. The Island of Misfit Toys.  Everybody belongs.)

I LOVE his characterization of Detroit here, since it is so apt.  It reminds me of when John Waters was on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!  earlier this year and he talked at length about how living in Baltimore has influenced his film-making.  I totally knew what he was talking about, because Detroit also has a very John Waters feel in a lot of ways, from the ripped-from-the-tabloids city politics, to the endless Youtube videos of ordinary Detroiters behaving badly, the seemingly limitless tolerance of Detroiters for chaos and messiness and squalor.  Remember Edith Massey?  She would have fit right in.  Detroit is just a John Waters kind of town.

(Speaking of which, Waters apparently addressed the U.S. Conference of Mayors last week when they met in Baltimore, which, I don’t even know where to begin, that is so perfect and surprising and hilarious at the same time.   I will have to try to hunt down a transcript.)

Spending a lot of time in Detroit literally alters your vision.  Out of towners tend to react with polite horror when they drive through town after a long absence, nervously eyeing their surroundings and trying to mask their disapproval.  I was the same way — when I first moved to Detroit I was secretly fascinated that there were white people living there still and wondered what their lives were like.  Now that I’ve been coming and going regularly for several years the blight, the poverty, all the things good and bad that make Detroit so exotic for small-town or suburban white people, seem kind of normal to me.

I wasn’t around in the 1970s, but I wonder if that’s kind of how gay ghettoes in our country started out too.  Gay culture started to emerge from the closet at the time when violent crime was peaking.  The gayborhoods often popped up in neighborhoods that were declining, in cities that themselves seemed to be dying.   To your average American, homosexuality was shocking, gay people were dissolute and criminal and dangerous, and you certainly wouldn’t take your kids for a drive through a neighborhood where those kinds of people congregrated.   Now the country’s great gayborhoods are thriving, prosperous and high-density places (though I’m pretty sure most parents still might think twice about taking young kids for a walk through, say, Boystown or the Castro).   I’m not saying that Detroit, even its best neighborhoods, will ever be fortunate enough to enjoy anything near that kind of a turnaround.  But those places had the same naughty, scary, Wild West kind of feel.  Gay people are used to seeking out grimy bars in  questionable neighborhoods, just like rave kids or music scenesters.  We’re used to feeling different and wary of our surroundings.  Frankly, I feel safer in a lot of parts of Detroit than I did in East Lansing on a Saturday night when I was an undergraduate, ignoring drunk fratboys yelling “faggot” or dodging a beer bottle aimed for my skull.

I think I know what Supergay was talking about when he writes about how Motor City Pride felt normal.  You had a lot of random people show up who may or may not have been gay — they just wanted to come check things out.  Lots of moms bringing their young kids, lots of younger teens, way more than I recall ever seeing at Pride when it was in Ferndale.  You had people of all  ages hanging out on the riverwalk, fishing, selling things, Detroit police officers peacefully mingling with the crowd.  And the behavior of attendees certainly seemed better than what you get from white suburban kids a lot of the time after major sports events or, say, the Downtown Hoedown.

I agree with Supergay that press coverage was pretty meager.  I’m not surprised that the Detroit News pretty much ignored it, but I would have expected a little better from the Free Press.

Supergay also pleas, “Someone open a downtown neighborhood gay bar NOW.”   I’ll second that.  We need a second gay bar in Washtenaw County too (Aut Bar could use the competition).   Preferably with a patio, but I’d happily take even a shitty dive bar.  I’ve decided Depot Town in Ypsilanti would be a perfect site.  In the meantime, word on the street is that Necto is making Tuesday its second gay night of the week starting tomorrow.  I’m going to try to sneak over & investigate.   There is also a queer dance party at Live one Saturday each month which I need to check out sooner or later.

2011 Motor City Pride: a brief round up

Attendance looked to be massively up this year, despite the oppressive (for Detroit) heat on Saturday (high of 92 F).  I don’t know if this will actually result in higher revenue for the festival, since a lot of people didn’t donate for their admission.  There seemed to be a lot of people who were not necessarily “family” but who just showed up to see what was going on.  Which is totally cool.  You could drink anywhere in Hart Plaza, whereas in Ferndale you were confined to the beer tent, so that probably helped drink sales.

Sunday’s parade was small, but not a bad start, considering its the first year they did it.  I am confident next year, with more time to plan, register, and recruit, it will be bigger and more elaborate.  Highlights included the Obama campaign, which had a great turnout of volunteers marching; lots of church congregations; and the ethnic floats, including Al GAMEA and a Latino group.

As I predicted, it did not seem to result in a lot of spillover to downtown businesses.  Jefferson Avenue is just too formidable a barrier.  The area of downtown adjacent to Hart Plaza may be architecturally significant and even visually impressive, but it dwarfs its small number of dining and drinking establishments, and so you did not see throngs of people milling around outside the festivals.

A big contingent of the gays made their way up to Royal Oak to see Robyn, as I did, Saturday night.  The crowd there was, not surprisingly, much less diverse than that at Hart Plaza:  mostly affluent, white, well-dressed, attractive guys in their twenties and thirties, and I saw a lot of familiar faces.  Not better; just different.  We danced like no tomorrow, which made up for my missing DEMF last weekend.  Ann Arbor was especially well represented, somewhat to my surprise — lots of UM boys I knew there.

All in all, it was a risky move that seemed to pay off.   I am very glad that the Pride committee made the decision to move down to Detroit proper, and might even consider volunteering to help plan next year’s event.