In honor of Pride Month, Wayne State University Libraries hosted a panel on June 12 featuring WSU alumni and former staff to discuss the history of the LBGTQ community at the university and how it has progressed.
The panelists spoke about their experiences as members of the LGBTQ community in the city from the 1960s to the mid-2000s.
“I knew I was lesbian and different,” said the Rev. Renee McCoy, a WSU alumna. “At the time, it was a layer of difference that I didn’t deal with.”
McCoy began her studies at WSU in 1967 but left in 1971 due to societal pressures from being African-American and gay on campus. She later returned to WSU, receiving her doctorate degree in anthropology in 2005.
McCoy said she is grateful for the education she received at WSU, but she was a gay African American in the ‘70s, and gay people at the time "were considered freaks."
“It was a dimension of being wrong I didn’t want to deal with,” she said. “I remember they had cameras in the men’s bathroom to catch any homosexual behavior.”
“It’s strange coming back and seeing the Student Center where my office was,” said Lynne Rose, a former WSU employee. Rose was the first paid staff member to devote her program to counseling for LGBTQ students, according to the Facebook event page.
“David Adamany was the president at the time and he asked me to create the program for the LGBTQ students in 1994,” she said.
David Adamany was the first openly gay president at WSU.
Rose was in charge of providing counseling for LGBTQ students. Her services included support groups and educational programming for students and staff.
Rose was featured in news outlets like The South End and the Detroit Free Press to create more visibility for the program.
“I didn’t realize how the media would affect my life,” said Rose.
The Detroit Free Press printed a story of her work at WSU and the accompanying picture’s caption stated she was a lesbian — a fact her father’s friends didn’t know.
“It was front page on the paper. When my dad saw it, he was mortified and upset,” she said. “It was very public for his social structure and I changed my last name to protect him from more embarrassment.”
She left WSU and accepted a job at the University of Michigan, an institution she said had more experience with supporting students in the LGBTQ community.
Charles Alexander, a writer, artist and WSU alumnus said he has seen a change in attitudes toward the LGBTQ community throughout the years.
“Being gay was seen as being a deviant or a pervert,” said Alexander. “The idea of even having a pride parade was impossible,”
“Then when I went to pride in Ferndale; I saw the crowds of people and I was moved to tears to see all of these people with their families and friends at the event."
McCoy said Detroit and WSU need to connect with the gay African-American community but to have that relationship, they must connect with the African American community as a whole.
“If they want a healthy relationship with one group, they must have it with the other or else it doesn’t work,” she said.
Susana Hernandez is a staff writer for The South End. She can be reached at email@example.com.