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In 1972, dozens of people gathered in Ann Arbor to celebrate the first officially designated “Gay Pride Week” in the country. The local fight for LGBTQ+ rights had gained traction just a few years prior with the founding of the Detroit Gay Liberation Movement, an activist organization which had a widespread impact at the Univeristy of Michigan in the 70s. Spurred by the residents’ activism, the Ann Arbor city council decided to recognize Gay Pride Week as the first weeklong celebration of its kind in June after the resolution was introduced in part by Jerry DeGriek and Nancy Wechsler - the first openly gay public office holders in the United States.
Ann Arbor has continued to be a place of many firsts. In 1970, the University of Michigan established the Human Sexuality Office (now called the Spectrum Center), becoming the first institution of higher learning in the country to create a center that focused exclusively on LGBTQ+ issues and employed queer students. In 1972, Kathy Kozecho became the first openly gay or lesbian candidate to win public office by being elected to Ann Arbor city council where she fought for greater recognition of LGBTQ+ issues and social justice. Other cities around the state have similarly pioneered the way for LGBTQ+ rights with East Lansing passing the first ever anti-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation in March, 1972.
As the fight for rights goes on, and though much progress has still to be made—, Ann Arbor continues to mark important steps, improving access to gender affirming services as recently as last year, along with passing dozens of other social justice initiatives over the last several decades.
As we celebrate Pride this month,we take a look back at the legacy of LGBTQ+ activism in Ann Arbor and its impact on the fight for equality and justice today.
“A look at Pride events happening in Michigan” by Jordyn Pair, MLive
Check out Pride celebrations happening over the next couple of months throughout the state and support local LGBTQ+ communities.
“How America’s First Campus Center for Gay and Lesbian Issues Was Founded” by Jim Toy, Huffington Post
Jim Toy shares what it was like to have created the first campus center for LGBTQ+ issues when he founded the Spectrum Center at the University of Michigan in 1971.
“The First Openly Gay Person to Win an Election in America was not Harvey Milk” by Steve Freiss, Bloomberg
Kathy Kozachenko of Ann Arbor holds the distinction of being the first openly gay or lesbian candidate to win public office after winning a seat in the Ann Arbor city council in 1972 and shares her often overlooked story.
LGBTQ Pride: From Origins to Evolution Teach Out by University of Michigan, Spectrum Center
A free online course by the University of Michigan that sheds light on the history of Pride and what it means for communities and individuals in Michigan today.
The Gayest Generation by Ann Arbor District Library
Hear stories from Ann Arbor elders as they describe what it was like to live in the city during the 1970’s when the fight for LGBTQ+ rights was just beginning to gain traction.