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'I think it’s something that’s needed': Metro Detroiters weigh in on possible LGBT district in Detroit

Posted at 7:01 AM, Jun 17, 2024

It’s the midst of Pride month. Ferndale’s Pride Fest kicked off the Metro area’s celebrations. Motor City Pride Fest goers filled Hart Plaza the second weekend of June. Nestled in between the performances and food trucks, the Rocket Companies booth was asking attendees a question: Do you want to see a LGBT District or Neighborhood in Detroit?

“I think it’s something that’s needed. Realistically our community doesn’t have the community,” said Xan Becker, a trans man at Motor City Pride.

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Xan Becker, Pride Fest attendee

The idea of Detroit having it's own LGBT-centered district is gaining traction.

“If it comes to fruition, it’ll be a great thing for all of us,” said Dave Wait, Chair of Motor City Pride.

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Dave Wait, Chair of Motor City Pride

"We've had a lot of support," said Pride Fest attendee Nick Prytula who was not on camera for our story. "It's really good to be included as a human being...this is important for everyone, we're people.

Right Now, Ferndale serves as the area hub for the LGBT community, but President and founder of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, Kevin Heard, says it's time Detroit has an LGBT neighborhood of its own.

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Kevin Heard, President & Founder of Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce

"That attracts tourism," Heard said. "That attracts dollars that attracts tax revenue because people can truly see themselves live in this city...metropolitan areas and cities as big as ours and they all have an intersection or a merchant row or something like that is very inclusive and very loud and proud about it."

And the wheels to make that a reality are already in motion. The Rocket Booth at Motor City Pride helped with the effort; people passing by were asking to fill out a survey, asking participants where they'd like to see an LGBT District in Detroit and what needs they want it to meet.

"We needed to do a really robust survey so this would be one aspect of four. So phase one is to really get a robust sample of the people who live here who are part of the community, who are allies of the community," Heard said.

So far more than 400 people have submitted their answers, this survey also isn't the first time community leaders have tried to get an LGBT district within Detroit.

"That conversation derived out of this office."

Nzere Kwabena founded LGBT Detroit. It's the largest Black-lead and founded LGBT organization in North America. He also says he knows first hand how much community members would benefit from their own neighborhood, because he remembers a time when Detroit did have one in Palmer Park.

"I had a chance as a young person to experience all that it gave me," Kwabena said. "You would have this walking experience going from bar to bar in that area. is was vibrant, it was celebrated."

The neighborhood ran from Palmer Park down McNichols to Woodward, then Woodward to 8 Mile, but by the early 90s, it fell apart at the seams.

"You had White flight, HIV/AIDS, and crack cocaine," Kwabena said. "With that cocktail, that horrible cocktail the neighborhood changed."

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Nzere Kwabena, Executive Director, LGBT Detroit

Now the pictures hanging on the wall, capturing those blissful, freeing moments before those three forces took effect, are all that's left of the former Palmer Park LGBT neighborhood.

"Joy. I want joy back. These people, who are my friends, are very happy," Kwabena said. "These pictures were taken when people were afraid to be captured, being photographed authentically was frightening. These people are very brave, and in this safe brave space to celebrate them."

The LGBT Detroit Building is still in the area, hoping to become an anchor for the potential new neighborhood, providing necessary physical and mental health care, or just a place to hang out with friends.

"It should be tailored to our interest," Kwabena said.

The survey probes participants to share what needs they want to see met.

"We have coffee shops, bars of course, but we also have technology companies and law firms and judges," Heard said. "But also you’re able to go to a realtor and go to your State Farm agent or insurance agent in the same area — make it a community."

A community, a safe haven that loves and celebrates year-round, not just in June.

"When it comes to the Detroit district, I feel like we aren’t seen enough with the exception of at Pride so to be able to come to a place and have that love and joy and support and those resources, that’s what we really need," Becker said.

7 News Detroit also reached out to the city about the mission. Anthony Zander, the Director of The City of Detroit’s Civil Rights, Inclusion & Opportunity Department said:

"The City of Detroit strives to ensure inclusivity for our LGBTQ+ communities in every neighborhood. We believe every neighborhood partner in our great City should be welcoming of individuals from of all communities - including block clubs, neighborhood associations, and business districts. With that being said, we look forward to seeing the results of the LGBT Chamber survey and encourage residents and businesses to participate," said Anthony Zander, Director of the City of Detroit's Civil Rights, Inclusion & Opportunity Department"

The survey is step one of four in this process. The deadline to fill it out is July 31, if you want to fill it out, you can do so at this link.