DWAYNE RILEY: Glass of water
Dwayne Riley, prevention manager at the Lansing Area Aids Network, has life-saving news and wants to share it.
Riley, 28, helps people overcome their reluctance to be tested for HIV and connects them with the latest prevention and treatment tools.
“As a black gay man, HIV impacts the communities I identify with in many ways,” he said.
“That diagnosis of HIV can change the trajectory of someone’s life.”
Public perception of HIV as a death sentence is 15 or 20 years behind the reality, and that complicates Riley’s job.
HIV prevention and treatment have improved to the point where patients can reach undetectable viral levels, he said.
“Not only that, but the medications that are available now are highly effective and often people live out their life expectancy they would have if they are HIV negative.”
He sounds like a man with a glass of water, trying any way he can to get the attention of people around him who are dying of thirst.
“The epidemic is not what it was in the 1980s and ‘90s, but there are still populations that are disproportionately impacted by HIV,” Riley said.
“One of two black gay men, and one out of four Latino gay men, are expected to be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetimes.”
While studying at the University of Michigan, Riley started volunteering in health services in nearby Ypsilanti and went on to work in intervention services in Detroit.
“That’s when I knew it was my passion,” he said.
In Lansing, Riley manages a team of HIV test counselors and outreach specialists. The prevention program takes HIV testing and counseling into the community, using a rapid test that can be used in the office or go anywhere it’s needed.
LAAN also does outreach events such as a national testing day, coming up June 24.
Most of Riley’s family lives in Detroit, but he feels he’s where he needs to be and plans to work in the field indefinitely.
“Lansing is a unique place,” he said. “I’m comfortable here.”
S. HOPE DUNDAS: Reason for hope
In an earlier life, S. Hope Dundas was a systems and database administrator, but she got tired of seeing her transgender friends getting shoddy medical care, or being refused care, and longed to be part of the solution.
Dundas, 43, has worked at Ingham Community Health Center for about two years as a physician assistant, specializing in transgender patients. In little over a year, she has built up a clientele of about 60 patients who come from as far as Midland to the north and Milan to the southeast.
Every day, she sees the toll harassment and systemic discrimination take on the health of her transgender patients.
She said that up to 40 percent of transgender people attempt suicide, compared to about 4.6 percent in the general population.
“It’s beyond even the elevated risk that lesbian and gay and bisexual people experience,” she said. “Mental health issues are pretty common — depression, anxiety, PTSD, homelessness, unemployment and underemployment, lack of insurance.”
Four days a week, she works at Eastern Health Center at Lansing’s Eastern High School, giving primary care to all students while helping LGBTQ kids work through the problems they face. She often links them with Teens Respecting and Understanding Each Other — TRUE— a support group that meets at 4 p.m. Thursdays at Everybody Reads bookstore.
“That group is particularly good for trans and non-gender-conforming kids 14 to 18,” she said. A support group for younger students is in the works.
Since the November election, the prospect of cuts to federal funds that help Ingham’s health centers, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and its trans-friendly provisions, and a fresh wave of anti-LGBTQ harassment and violence, have Dundas on edge. “I feared for my patients, but there are a lot of signs for hope,” she said. “The greatest promise is in the upcoming generation. They are so strong and resilient and hopeful and they’re very creative and they defy boundaries.”
BETWEEN THE LINES: Back in the soup
After the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling in 2015, the staff of the Michigan-based LGBTQ paper Between the Lines thought they could loosen up a little.
“We actually had conversations about, ‘What do we do now? Maybe we should just do a gay cooking book,’” co-owner Jan Stevenson said.
“Then came November 2016 and we were back in the soup.”
The election and aftermath brought a wave of newly emboldened anti-gay threats and legislative attempts to erode gay rights.
“The wolves have been released,” Stevenson said.
Like opportunistic strains of bacteria, endlessly mutating “religious freedom” bills keep on coming.
“It doesn’t matter that you can get married if someone can say, ‘You’re evil, so I’m not going to sell you a house, I can throw you out of my restaurant and fire you from your job,’” Stevenson said.
In 2018, Between the Lines will celebrate 25 years of continuous publication. Stevenson and Susan Horowitz, who are also partners in life, took over the publication two years after it was started by a group of students at the University of Michigan.
Back then, it was hard just to find people who were willing to be out in the paper. “People wanted to keep their jobs,” Stevenson said.
The paper’s key activist phase started in 2004, when Michigan’s anti-gay-marriage amendment shocked the LGBT community.
“We stepped into a leadership role,” Stevenson said. “We were not only writing, but organizing.”
Even in the age of social media, print readership is growing. About 15,000 copies go out each week, mainly in Detroit, and about 50,000 readers visit its website.
Between the Lines is one of 12 papers in the National Gay Media Association. “In 2016, our distribution, as a group, went up 16 percent,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson jokes that for her and Howowitz, 25 years of home and work life adds up to “75 years together.”
“But we have no plans to slow down as long as it’s fun,” she said. “And it is.”
EMILY DIEVENDORF: Not Debatable
Emily Dievendorf, 38, has been an activist for as long as she can remember. The president of the Lansing Association for Human Rights since 2015 was already getting thrown off the school bus in grade school for calling out the bus driver’s racism.
In high school, Dievendorf wanted to be Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Activism was an obvious choice for her. There are plenty of gray areas in life, she said, but civil rights are not among them.
“Human rights, what we all deserve at the bare minimum, how we should be treated equitably and fairly — that is not debatable,” she said.
“I can defend that forever.”
After working in the state Legislature, she joined Equality Michigan and became the group’s director.
Many people told her not to expect much progress under a Republican-controlled state Legislature.
“We passed an anti-bullying bill,” she said.
“We played defense and stopped a lot of horrible things when the Legislature threw one thing after another at us. We built a marriage movement and helped get the marriage case to the Supreme Court.”
Some battles were more bruising than others.
The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival ended its 40-year run in 2015 after Equality Michigan led a push to include trans women and a series of top acts boycotted the event. (Founder organizer Lisa Vogel didn’t mention the controversy over inclusion of trans women as a reason for the festival’s demise.)
“I re-initiated a conversation about trans inclusion in feminist spaces and will go down in history for that, for good or bad, and I’m really proud of that,” Dievendorf said.
While struggling to run and fund LAHR, Dievendorf finds time for pro bono victim services and hate crime response.
“When somebody is murdered in a hate crime, they don’t get shot and the suspect walks away,” she said. “They are beaten, burned, dismembered. People need to hear about it and consider why we need to provide safe, accepting spaces wherever we can.”
UNITED AUTOMOBILE WORKERS Spoke in the wheel
In summer 2000, the three largest automakers in the United States announced they would extend health benefits to same-sex partners of their employees.
The joint announcement by General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler division of DaimlerChrysler AG heralded the full participation of America’s manufacturing sector in a quiet revolution already underway among many Fortune 500 companies.
Gerald Kariem, Region 1D director of the United Auto Workers union, said the breakthrough was not the result of some dramatic top-down directive. The bargaining was done that year the same way it is always done: The union locals put together resolutions and submit them to the bargaining team.
“The resolution came from the members,” he said. “To their credit, GM agreed.”
Once GM was on board, the UAW was able to take the resolution to Ford and Chrysler in a classic piece of “pattern bargaining.”
Kariem described the milestone as a logical extension of UAW’s strong traditions. “UAW not only advocates for better wages, health and safety, but at the same time we are a social movement,” he said.
He declined to detail disagreements that must have broken out among rank-and-file membership leading up to the resolution, but he admitted that his own path took some twists and turns.
“Some folks don’t know how to have that discussion,” he said. “I didn’t. My granddaughter taught me how to have that discussion. She taught me about judging. I had to take a look at my own personal inventory.”
The LGBTQ community, he said, is firmly installed as a crucial spoke of the “great wheel” of UAW.
“It’s no different than civil rights with Martin Luther King,” he said. “I remember people having conflicts about civil rights, affirmative action and all that. The bottom line is it was the right thing to do.”
RACHEL CRANDALL-CROCKER: Happy but scared
Eight years ago, pioneering transgender activist Rachel Crandall-Crocker created the International Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31.
The day is now marked in dozens of countries, from Russia to Africa to Asia. This year, One World Trade Center was lit up in the transgender pride colors of pink, white and blue.
“It’s weird to see articles on Facebook that are all in Chinese with my name in the middle,” Crandall-Crocker said. “I hope they’re not saying I’m a dirty rotten bitch.”
Did we mention that she has a warped sense of humor?
Crandall-Crocker, 57, founded Transgender Michigan in Lansing with her life partner, Susan Crocker, whom she married two years ago.
“We are really, really happy,” Crandall said. “I really love her so much.”
Outside the marital cocoon, however, things aren’t so bright.
“A lot of my community are really, really scared,” Crandall-Crocker said. “I know one person who stopped her transition when Trump was elected and went back to being a man. That’s why Transgender Michigan was created.”
Transgender Michigan has one of a handful of toll-free help lines in the nation for transgender people. They recently started a Facebook group for transgender people who are disabled.
The group’s annual Pride in the Park event in Ferndale, the largest transgender event in Michigan, drew 300 people this year despite a relentless day of rain. About 1,000 people are on the statewide mailing list with thousands more involved in local affiliates.
One of Crandall-Crocker’s fondest hopes for the future is to create a first-class, spacious shelter for transgender people.
“Shelters say they have rooms for men and rooms for women and no rooms for us,” Crandall –Crocker said. “I have friends that were kicked out of shelters in the middle of winter when there were beds available.”
DELICIOUS JACKSON-CLARK: Be yourself, honey
When Lansing drag queen Delicious Jackson Clark works the stage to Jill Scott’s “Hate on Me,” her toughness, vulnerability, joy and defiance radiate from every pore: “Go ahead and hate on me, hater, I’m not afraid of what I got paid for.”
Jackson Clark, 38, is a legend in Lansing, not only for his 18-year run of Saturday gigs at Spiral Dance Bar, but also for mentoring countless LGBTQ kids in the community, in person and via Facebook.
Jackson Clark is glowing extra brightly these days. He just married his partner of three years, Kyle Clark, May 20. They had a big wedding in his grandmother’s backyard and a reception for 400 people at the Eagles Lounge.
Basking in Jackson Clark’s warmth and poise makes it seem possible to be yourself in spite of it all, and that’s a life-saving message for young LGBTQ people.
“We try to grab young kids before they get to that suicidal age and talk to them,” he said. “Life is not that bad. I tell them, ‘Let them say, “Fag this” and “fag that.” You just be who you want to be, honey.’” He decided to try his skills as a drag queen about 20 years ago, for a drag show at Club Paradise.
“It wasn’t hard because I did it on Halloween,” he said. He ended up trying for Miss Paradise at a big drag show.
“I haven’t stopped since,” he said. Performing is a big release after a rough day job in home health care “When I’m stressing out, I can take that frustration out in my performance and do a good show,” he said. “Making yourself look totally different — I love that.”
His “nuclear jam” is “Hate on Me,” but he also gets the right feeling from Love To’s “Talkin’ Body” and any number of songs by Beyoncé and Rihanna.
“I’m versatile with that,” he said. “But if I don’t feel it, I don’t do it.”
THIERRY NANA: Not just a talker
Thierry Nana is living out a life of liberation that began 29 years ago in Cameroon.
He moved to Lansing two years ago.
“In Cameroon, people cannot be happy or free to say they are gay,” he said.
He was ridiculed in school and his father tried more than once to beat the gay out of him. He tried to commit suicide three times.
“I wasn’t happy to be gay, but that was because the way people were making me feel,” he said.
An aunt already lived in Lansing. Thierry’s mother hoped the aunt could cure him of being gay. He hoped to find gay paradise.
But happiness was elusive at first. Between his accent and the culture shock, he said, “People looked at me like I was coming from Mars.”
He started going to First Presbyterian Church and came under the mentorship of James McClurken, a gay man and a church elder.
He started taking art classes at Lansing Community College and painted at night. McClurken and his husband, Sergei Kvitko, hosted an exhibition of his work at their mansion, the Potter House. The art show doubled as a portfolio that helped him into the Kendall College of Art and Design, in Grand Rapids, studying fashion design and painting.
With only six months of English study under his belt, he is making stunning progress. He has another art exhibition at McClurken and Kvitko’s house July 27 and is aiming to get into Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize festival. He plans to take advantage of Kendall College’s ties with FIG Collective in Brooklyn, an ultrachic “concept store” and workshop, to take the Big Apple by storm.
“Everyone who enters that school became famous,” he said. “That’s my goal. I want to be in the runway show and I will make it. I’m not just a talker.”
City Pulse LGBTQ Inclusion Awards Party and Ceremony
Thursday, June 15 7 p.m. to 9 p.m Cocktail party 7 to 8; awards ceremony 8 to 9. Spiral Dance Bar, 1247 Center St., Lansing Tickets, $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Includes food, half price drinks and admission to the Michigan Pride White Party the next night. In advance: www.lansingcitypulse.com or call Suzi at (517) 999-6704