Fifty Years Later, Free Comic Book Tells Story of Michigan’s First LGBTQ+ Pride
The story of Christopher Street Detroit ’72, the first-ever LGBTQ+ pride celebration in Michigan held 50 years ago this June 1972, has been brought to life through a full-color, 32-page nonfiction comic book for free distribution. Freelance illustrator Isabel Clare Paul and historian Tim Retzloff teamed up to create “Come Out! In Detroit” based on eyewitness primary sources, oral histories, and a cache of largely unseen photographs. The comic book’s release was accompanied by exhibits and public programs in Detroit, Ann Arbor, and East Lansing to mark the 50th anniversary of the event.
One June 24, 1972, Detroiters and other Michiganders gathered to publicly parade down Woodward Avenue, rally to speeches in Kennedy Square, dance the night away at the Unitarian Church on Cass, and picnic the next day in Palmer Park. It capped a week of celebrations at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University. In Ann Arbor, the city council declared Gay Pride Week, the first known official recognition of LGBTQ pride by a governmental body in the United States.
The 1972 activities were planned and coordinated by representatives from not only Metro Detroit but also from Ann Arbor, East Lansing and Lansing, and elsewhere in the state under an umbrella group called the Michigan Gay Coalition. It was touted as the earliest example of statewide gay organizing—what we now understand as LGBTQ+ organizing—in the United States.
Distribution started with an early release of several hundred copies at selected comic book stores in Metro Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Lansing on Free Comic Book Day on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Early distribution also took place at Motor City Comic Con May 13 to 15 at Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. The event, a gathering of comic book, television, and cinema fans, welcomes an audience not typically on the radar for storytellers of Michigan LGBTQ+ history.
Our official release began June 2nd. About a third of the 23,000 copies distributed were personally handed out at pride events, specifically Motor City Pride, Ferndale Pride, Michigan Pride, Hotter Than July in Detroit!, Lansing Pride, and Ann Arbor Pride. Distribution will included public libraries, LGBTQ+ community centers, campus gender and sexuality centers, and a number of coffee shops, bookstores, bars, and other sites throughout the state.
The 50th anniversary Christopher Street Detroit ’72 and the publication of the “Come Out! In Detroit” comic book have both provided unique opportunities for additional educational outreach. As such, public programming has been an important aspect of the project as well. Here the comic book is not the end product of our efforts but rather a launching point, a tool for examining history in greater depth.