On June 24, 1972, Michigan’s first LGBTQ+ Pride celebration was held in Detroit as representatives from Metro Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing and other cities joined together through the Michigan Gay Coalition. On this historic day, participants marched on Woodward Avenue, rallied in speeches on Kennedy Square, danced at the Unitarian Church on Cass Avenue and had a picnic the next day in Palmer Park. The rally was held in recognition of the Stonewall uprising in New York in 1969.
Fifty years after what is now known as Christopher Street ’72, historian Tim Retzloff and freelance illustrator Isabel Clare Paul have joined forces to create a 32-page non-fiction comic strip, “Come Out! In Detroit,” which tells the story of the celebration.
To promote the release of the book, the Detroit Historical Museum is presenting a special exhibit, now through 9/11, with enlarged pages from the book to highlight the stories told through the oral histories of this manifestation. The museum will also be giving away free copies of the book while supplies last.
As a historian who has been researching the LGBTQ history of Michigan and the Detroit metro area for more than 30 years, author Tim Retzloff explained that this celebration has been something on his radar for some time, as her dissertation focused specifically on lesbian and gay life in the Detroit metro area. from 1945 to 1985.
“I wanted to make sure people were aware of this event 50 years later, as there have been Pride celebrations every year since, and except for the few people who are still there and remember the event, people didn’t know there was pride in Michigan and Detroit in 1972 and there’s often this surprise about it,” Retzloff said. “I knew there was a need to tell the story, and that’s when I reached out to Isabel.”
Tracy Irwin, exhibits and enrichment manager at the Detroit Historical Museum, said in an email that the museum is celebrating the exhibit during Pride Month to honor and share the historic stories of members of the Detroit LGBTQ+ community. .
“‘Going Out! In Detroit’ is a fresh take on examining a historic moment in Detroit’s history,” Irwin said. “A comic book is accessible and an innovative way to bring the first Pride to life Detroit Parade…I think we agreed that this 50th anniversary story was something we wanted to be a part of and help tell as an exhibit. Sharing the stories of members of our LBGTQ+ community is an important aspect of our local history that the Detroit Historical Society wants to ensure is recognized.
The exhibit features enlarged images of the comic so attendees can take a closer look at the pages. Additionally, mementos are on display, such as banners and t-shirts, from the original celebration. Paul said the artifacts featured alongside the comic help readers make a connection between the two.
“The idea was to have the comic pages enlarged and exposed, but the captions tell us about the creative process and how we decided on different things,” Retzloff said. “And then there are two objects in the exhibition that are really important, one of which is a T-shirt that says ‘get out’. It was a homemade T-shirt screen-printed by the organizers from from 1972 that Susan Swope donated to the museum, and she was the only lesbian speaker at the rally. Then we also have the Gay Liberation Front banner that was on display where the speakers gave their speeches, that was on the Kennedy Square and it was draped over the ledge so…it’s a really important artifact of our history that I’m excited to be displayed with this exhibit.
Retzloff said that throughout the writing and illustration process, he and Paul strived for accuracy and fidelity while telling eyewitness stories.
“All the people mentioned were real people, and that’s something that often gets lost when we talk about social movements, the individuals who were involved,” Retzloff said. “There are a few dozen people who are named in the comic, many of them are sources, but at least 10 of them are deceased. So the importance of making sure their voices are heard and that their stories are remembered becomes more pronounced because of it for me.
Paul graduated from the College of Creative Studies (CCS) in May 2020 and felt this project would be a great way to launch his career. She said she was very proud of how the project captured the essence of the story before it could be forgotten, as well as the positive feedback received from those quoted in the story.
“I’m so proud of it, of the whole story and making sure the story doesn’t fade into nothingness,” Paul said. “It has been recorded and now it is accessible and can be shared.”
‘Go out! In Detroit’
at the Detroit Historical Museum, 5401 Woodward, Detroit