V Martin celebrates pride everyday at their hair salon with clients whom they call “everyone in the alphabet mafia.”
Martin, who uses the pronouns they/them, is the owner of V Cuts Detroit. It’s an LGBTQ+ friendly hair salon with a goal to break down gender barriers when it comes to cost. One of their favorite moments in the salon is when they turn their clients to face the mirror and the new hairstyle is revealed.
“I would say that one of the reasons that I’ve been able to get such a big following so quickly was the fact that I wanted to take gender out of the haircut,” said Martin. The business started in 2018, and is located in Shellnut Bro’s at 21930 Vassar Ave. in Hazel Park.
V Cuts Detroit is one of many LGBTQ+ businesses and nonprofits in metro Detroit that want to see Pride continue after the month of June. A report from the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce states that there are approximately 1.4 million business owners in the country who identify with the LGBTQ+ community.
Businesses like Drifter Coffee and Gigi’s gay bar in Detroit, and nonprofits such as Affirmations in Ferndale and the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park are spaces that people who identify with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer plus community gravitate toward as a safe space to gather.
“Pride isn’t just a holiday to me — it’s a lifestyle,” Martin said. “If you’re in that community, and even if you’re not in that community, I think that the support all year-round will help people understand that it’s not a phase, it’s not something we can choose.”
Here’s how some of metro Detroit’s businesses and nonprofits are working to serve the LGBTQ+ community year-round.
Pride events in August
For Gary Baglio, who owns Royal Oak restaurants Five15 and Pronto!, celebrating Pride is year-round in his businesses. He calls Pronto! the unofficial “center of the gay universe in metro Detroit” and it has been operating since 1991. Five15 Media, the parent company of Pronto!, purchased the business in 2020. And at Five15, which opened in 2007, what started as a one-time event — called Drag Queen Bingo — became a community staple that Baglio says helped bridge the gap between the gay and straight communities. It now hosts six shows a week and it sells out weeks in advance.
Baglio sees growth opportunities for the metro Detroit LGBTQ+ community, businesses and nonprofits. In order to increase resources for LGBTQ+ businesses, though, Baglio says the community needs to help each other and create relationships with city officials.
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“My goal has always been to create a space in Michigan that rivals other larger cities, so that our gay young people don’t have to leave our state to enjoy all that other larger cities have to offer,” he said.
Baglio is planning Royal Oak PRIDE, which is set to take place Aug. 12-13 on South Main Street. The Royal Oak Downtown Development Authority is one of the event’s sponsors. The event is set to bring in celebrities like Nina West from RuPaul’s “Drag Race,” Broadway star and artist Deborah Cox, and Hello Weekend. party band.
“I think it’s a great way to extend the Pride season considering it’s really never a bad time to celebrate Pride and celebrate the community.” said Daniel Hill, downtown manager at the Royal Oak Downtown Development Authority. The agency, in partnership with city staff and volunteers, hosted events in June geared toward families, which included drag queen story time and other activities for kids.
Selling LGBTQ+ brands in store
For Jess Minnick, co-owner of Not Sorry Goods, business picks up during Pride Month. But the store, which Minnick said is “very much queer all year,” sells clothing, accessories and gifts with the tagline “Not Sorry” and other phrases that celebrate identity. This year, the store’s “pro everything” T-shirts were a hit, Minnick said.
One thing that is unique about the store is that it serves as a hub for several LGBTQ+-owned businesses to sell their products. It also hosts events and partners with other organizations and businesses in the space.
“I don’t know any other store in the area that’s carrying as many local queer artists as we are,” Minnick said. “Our whole purpose is to provide a voice for those who have traditionally not been given it. That continues all year-round for us.”
Tivoli Clay is an LGBTQ+-owned clay jewelry brand by Rachel Lott, who started the business in 2020 after she bought a children’s clay-making kit during the pandemic. Now, her products are sold at Not Sorry Goods.
“My first customers and the first people who were interested in my jewelry were a lot of people in the queer community,” Lott said. “So it’s naturally just kind of evolved into something that is celebrated year-round.” Her customers sometimes ask for customized pieces with pronouns stamped on the jewelry. She also often seeks queer-inclusive pop-up shops to sell her jewelry in person.
Nonprofits are working, too
Lilianna Angel Reyes, is the executive director of Trans Sisters of Color Project, a trustee of the Highland Park-based Ruth Ellis Center. The nonprofit serves trans women of color who are struggling with getting jobs, as well as homeless people and sex workers. It also helps with gender marker and name changes and legal processes, along with financial and grief support if someone’s loved one is murdered. A report by Transgender Europe’s Trans versus Transphobia Worldwide project in 2021 states that 375 trans and gender-diverse people were murdered in just a little over a year.
“Trans women need money, and they need money not connected to a stupid group or to a curriculum-based program. They just need money,” Reyes said. “So we started our emergency assistance fund that gave trans women a couple hundred dollars a year.”
The organization is able to do this work through unrestricted grants from funders outside of Michigan, and it has no reliance on donations or local funding. Reyes said many grants have non-allowable costs, which include items like hotel rooms, food and benefits. Restricting people of color from items like food is something that the organization considers to be a racist tactic.
“Unrestricted dollars for us should go towards the things that are creating sustainable outcomes and meeting the daily needs of trans women of color,” Reyes said. “It is about food, but not just about food. It’s not about meeting our bottom line. It’s about helping our community.”
LGBT Detroit has had a long list of programming for the community for almost 30 years. It focuses on the needs of disabled LGBTQ+ people, voter engagement, sexual assault and domestic violence prevention, HIV, AIDS and STI education and prevention, youth mentoring and women’s health. The organization recently hosted an event called Hotter Than July that featured an appearance from rapper Da Brat.
Curtis Lipscomb, the executive director of LGBT Detroit, said he believes that Hotter Than July was evidence that “you can carve out time to celebrate what is unique about what is LGBT. And for LGBT Detroit — the uniqueness is what is Black and brown, and how Black and brown people express same sex attraction, liberation, equality, family, health.”
As for the future of the LGBTQ+ community in Detroit, Lipscomb said the city has had long-lasting efforts around organizing when it comes to social services, entertainment and business, but there is still more work to be done.
“Space needs to be developed as we have people who are looking at this body of people and making what I believe are unhealthy laws and policies that have targeted people like me,” he said.
Planning a year-round budget
Former Detroiter Rob Smith is the owner of the Phluid Project, a gender-neutral fashion brand based in New York that sells apparel and accessories. Smith is also the founder of the Fluid Foundation, which disburses funds to grassroots organizations that mostly focus on transgender women of color and homeless queer youth.
For Smith’s business and organization, July is a time of preparation. Donations and support come in full force during Pride Month, but things change throughout the rest of the year.
“We’re going to look at what our payroll is and basically have enough money in the bank for 10 months,” Smith said. “Sometimes, post-pride everything dries up. You don’t know. That’s kind of the way we live, and you have to run your business the whole year. You can’t fire everybody. So without people consistently supporting your organization, that’s what happens.”
A Michigan-based organization called Stand With Trans aims to support and empower transgender youth and their loved ones, including those who are nonbinary, gender fluid and genderqueer. The nonprofit, founded by executive director Roz Gould Keith in 2015, has a focus on education, affirmation, acceptance, family and community.
When it comes to educating the workforce, the organization provides Trans 101 for companies so that employees know what being transgender means, how to be understanding when a coworker comes out and that a company’s forms reflect all identities.
“Those kinds of actions are important all year long,” Gould Keith said. She also added that companies that have the finances should use the money they have set aside for charitable donations and support LGBTQ+ organizations year-round. “It doesn’t have to be attached to Pride Month because our work goes on 12 months a year. We don’t just do the work in June.”
Standing by LGBT businesses
The Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce does outreach and support with local businesses and nonprofits. It is structured as two parts: a nonprofit and a foundation. Kevin Heard, founder and board president — who is also manager, Inclusion & Engagement Programs at Gannett, the parent company of the Free Press — said the organization is membership-based, meaning that its small business and corporate members pay an annual fee to belong to the organization.
Heard said within the small business community in Michigan, “People are scared to put a rainbow flag in their window. They’re afraid to flag their business as an LGBT-owned business. They don’t feel as though they need to let everyone know that they’re gay in order to be (a) business because they feel as though … they will be looked down upon.”
The intersectionality of being a person of color and a member of the LGBTQ+ community plays a part, too. So the organization connects businesses with access to capital.
“There is a systemic issue within the system of building a business, even for LGBT people,” Heard said. “But it is my job as a chamber leader to focus on equity, and making sure that people who are having those intersectional identities — especially in the Blackest city of America — (have) a voice and an opportunity to be financially stable and successful in their entrepreneurship journey.”
When it comes to the future of LGBTQ+ owned businesses and nonprofits, Heard has a vision for Detroit that he says can happen organically.
“What we need to do, for the LGBT community, is make sure that we create more spaces for them to congregate, to be themselves, to thrive,” Heard said. “This is a call to action, to every business LGBT business owner or LGBT friendly business owner, to create that space, to create those neighborhoods where people can really thrive.”
Contact staff writer Chanel Stitt on Twitter: @ByChanelStitt. Become a subscriber or gift a subscription.