Detroit Historical Museum celebrates 'Come Out! In Detroit'

Kaitlyn Luckoff
The Detroit News

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 gathered through the Michigan Gay Coalition. On this historic day, participants paraded down Woodward Avenue, rallied to speeches in Kennedy Square, danced at the Unitarian Church on Cass Avenue, and had a picnic the next day in Palmer Park. The rally took place in recognition of the stonewall uprising in New York City in 1969.

Fifty years after what is now known as Christopher Street ’72, historian Tim Retzloff and freelance illustrator Isabel Clare Paul joined forces to create a 32-page nonfiction comic book, "Come Out! In Detroit," that tells the story of the celebration.

To promote the book’s release, the Detroit Historical Museum is presenting a special exhibition, now through Sept. 11, featuring enlarged pages of the book to highlight the stories told through oral histories from this demonstration. The museum will also distribute free copies of the book while supplies last.

As a historian who has been researching Michigan and Metro Detroit LGBTQ history for more than 30 years, author Tim Retzloff explained that this celebration has been something on his radar for a while, as his dissertation was specifically focused on lesbian and gay life in Metro Detroit from 1945 to 1985.

The cover of Come Out! In Detroit.

“I wanted to make sure that people knew about this event 50 years after because there have been Pride celebrations every year since, and except for the few people who are still around who remember the event, people didn’t know there was a pride in Michigan and in Detroit in 1972 and there’s often this surprise about that,” Retzloff said. “I knew that there was a need to tell the story, and that’s when I reached out to Isabel.”

Tracy Irwin, chief exhibitions and enrichment officer at the Detroit Historical Museum, said in an email that the museum is celebrating this exhibition during Pride Month to honor and share historical stories of LGBTQ+ Detroit community members.

“'Come Out! In Detroit' is a fresh take on reviewing an historical moment in Detroit’s history,” Irwin said. “A comic book is accessible and an innovative way to bring to life Detroit’s first Pride Parade... I think we were in agreement that this 50th anniversary story was something we wanted to be part of and to help tell as an exhibition. Sharing the stories of our LBGTQ+ community members is an important aspect of our local history that the Detroit Historical Society wants to make sure is recognized.”

The exhibit displays blown up images of the comic book for attendees to take a closer look at the pages. Additionally, there is memorabilia on exhibit, such as banners and T-shirts, from the original celebration. Paul said the artifacts presented alongside the comic book helps readers form a connection between the two.

“The idea was to have the have the pages of the comic enlarged and on display, but the captions are us talking about the creative process and how we decided different things,” Retzloff said. “And then there’s two objects in the exhibit that are really important, one of which is a T-shirt that says ‘come out.’ This was a homemade T-shirt silk screened by the organizers from 1972 that Susan Swope donated to the museum, and she was the one lesbian speaker at the rally. Then we also have the Gay Liberation Front banner that was on display where the speakers gave their speeches, it was in the old Kennedy square and it was draped over the ledge, so... it’s a really important artifact from our history that I’m excited gets to be displayed with this exhibit.”

Retzloff said that throughout the writing and illustrating process, he and Paul strove to achieve accuracy and have fidelity while telling eyewitness stories.

“All of the people that are mentioned were real people, and this is something that often gets lost when we talk about social movements, the individuals that were involved,” Retzloff said. “There’s a couple of dozen people who are named in the comic, many of them are sources, but at least 10 of them had passed away. So, the importance of making sure that their voices are heard and their stories remembered becomes more pronounced because of that for me.”

East Lansing Gay Lib Choir performing at rally, June 24, 1972.

Paul graduated from the College of Creative Studies (CCS) in May 2020, and felt that this project would be a great way to kickstart her career. She said she is most proud of how the project captured the history’s essence before it could be forgotten, as well as the positive feedback received from those quoted in the story.

“I’m so proud of it, just the whole story and making sure that the history didn’t just fade into nothing,” Paul said. “It’s been recorded and now it’s accessible and can get shared on.”

'Come Out! In Detroit'

at the Detroit Historical Museum, 5401 Woodward, Detroit

now-Sept. 11