With a new name, the organization that was started to service the African-American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community expands services
(This BLOG FIRST APPEARED IN BLAC MAGAZINE 7.2015)
News flash: KICK is now LGBT Detroit.
If you had no idea what KICK was before this, the new name says it all. And that's how you know that a name change is working.
For LGBT Detroit founder and executive director Curtis Lipscomb, the change was both necessary and painstaking. "You don't give up a 20-year-old brand easily," he says about the two-year change process. "The board researched and took a slow path. We treated our name like precious cargo. But in the end, we saw that we were already a changed business—it's just the name that hadn't changed."
Let me back up. Lipscomb founded KICK in 1994 as a one of the first publishing companies to cover the African-American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The name "KICK," which was a reference to a dance common in the LGBT community in the '80s, resonated among the organization's urban African-American readership.
In 2003, KICK became a nonprofit to help support African-American LGBT social activism and cultural pride. Lipscomb considered changing the name then. But KICK had already built both traction and trust in the community—so it stuck. And as the organization's mission grew, so did its prominence.
"Now we have paid staff and unique programs that have national recognition," Lipscomb says. "The name didn't work in a larger context."
Indeed, LGBT Detroit has made impressive leaps over the past 20 years. Lipscomb helped start the second-oldest Black gay pride celebration in the country, Hotter Than July, which still happens each summer in Palmer Park (back July 21-26 for its 20th year). He has also been invited to the White House three times to speak about LGBT issues and has met the president twice.
"People know about our work because we bring something to the movement that the movement doesn't do well," he says. "We do work in Brightmoor or Van Dyke and I-94. You don't see gay and lesbian game changers in those areas. We're not everywhere in Detroit, but where we are, others are not."
In 2012, Lipscomb received a leadership award from the Black Male Engagement project or BMe (pronounced "be me"). Founded by the Knight Foundation to highlight and support the positive leadership of Black men in their communities, BMe is now an independent nonprofit that has programs in several cities, including Detroit, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Lipscomb's leadership award came with a $20,000 grant to support a vision that he had for the community. He decided that the time was right harness the leadership potential of so many young people whose voices were never heard in Detroit. The result is the LGBT Detroit Leadership Academy.
"It's a popular notion that if you are gay and live in the Midwest or the South, you had to leave in order to be yourself," says Lipscomb. "But imagine being 22 years old and LGBT, and feeling like you can stay right here in Detroit in order to create change. That's what the leadership academy is about."
Since 2012, the academy has provided social justice training for future LGBT leaders in a six-week program featuring two cohorts annually. To date, there have been 47 grads, most under 30 and often work in mainstream environments including universities, public schools and large nonprofits.
Detroit native Rhiannon Chester, 27, was in one of the first classes. She's been a community activist since her days at Mumford High School where she organized efforts around issues like Detroit public school closings, affirmative action at the University of Michigan and HIV.
"But I wasn't involved in LGBT issues," says Chester, who is a lesbian. "My sexual identity wasn't lifted up or visible. It wasn't talked about in the spaces that I was in."
Chester is a photographer who is working on a master's degree in social justice and says she evolved in profound ways through the academy. "I learned to advocate for myself rather than for other people. I could bring my whole self to activism."
Now, Chester works for LGBT Detroit as the program coordinator for the leadership academy, which Lipscomb says brings his vision full circle.
"You should not have to leave your home to be yourself," he says. "Detroit cannot afford to have any of its residents leave. We're providing an avenue for people to stay put and fight for the Detroit they want. You can't pray for things to change; you have to act for change."
That's what LGBT Detroit has always been about. Now it's right there in the name.