Fifty years ago, Michigan held its first-ever Pride celebration in Detroit on Christopher Street in 1972. This celebration was made possible with the help of many people and organizations, many of whom worked and frequented the Michigan State University.
While he was young at the time of the event and not present, Tim Retzloff, now a professor of history and LGBTQIA + studies at MSU, wanted to honor this occasion for his birthday.
Retzloff is an assistant professor in the Department of History in the College of Social Sciences and a faculty member of the Center for Gender in a Global Context, or GenCen, in International Studies and Programs.
Retzloff researches lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or queer, intersex, asexual, and other stories. He collaborated with artist Isabel Clare Paul to create “Come Out! In Detroit,” a 32-page comic commemorating the celebration.
1972 Miss Capital drag queen performer at Joe Covello’s bar in Lansing.
The book is based on eyewitness accounts, oral histories, diaries, organizational minutes, and other publications from that time. All of these elements helped tell the story of the celebration and the events that preceded it.
Retzloff and Paul were motivated to create the comic because it served as a key moment that inspired early gay activism on campus.
1972 drag queen contestants at Joe Covello’s bar.
“A lot of contemporary people never knew there was a pride that far. Part of it is that some of the people involved moved away, some ceased to be active, some of them died during the war. AIDS epidemic or some other intermediate cause,” Retzloff said. “So that was a story waiting to be told.”
Through their research, the two found many notable people who were crucial in making the march happen, including Mike Scott, aka Aretha, who led the march.
Scott had won the Miss Capital City pageant at the bar of Joe Covello, a stalwart of Lansing’s gay community, sponsored by the MSU Gay Liberation Movement. GLM is one of Michigan’s oldest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups, founded in the early 1970s. Scott got on the hood of a car at the very front of the march and played dance . During this time, Scott worked at a restaurant in Lansing and later worked as a chef at the Shaw Hall cafeteria on campus.
Scott is one of many notable people who played a significant role in the march and were part of the MSU community. But, like Scott’s story, they were hard to find because most of the information was not online.
One perspective that had been buried in the MSU archives came from Elyse Eisenberg, a student at MSU at the time.
Eisenberg was a member of GLM, which helped get things off the ground for LGBTQIA+ activism on campus. The group, now known as the Alliance of Queer and Ally Students, even helped East Lansing become the first city in the country to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in hiring in town.
Come Out! In Detroit with archival photo drawings of a drag queen contest at Joe Covello’s bar in Lansing. Artwork by Isabel Clare Paul.
One of Eisenberg’s roles was to transport activists by bus. This allowed more people to get involved by empowering them to attend meetings, demonstrations and other events.
Eisenberg’s story doesn’t appear in the comic because the interview didn’t take place until after it was published, but revealed how much LGBTQIA+ history has been lost.
Retzloff used a variety of archives and collections for his research, including LGBTQ+ resources from MSU Libraries in Special Collections. Special Collections began collecting gay and lesbian materials in the 1970s through the work of bibliographer Anne E. Tracy, who contributed to its early research.
“I remember she came up to me and asked me what I was looking for. I didn’t want to tell her because I assumed she was anti-pride,” Retzloff said. “It turned out that she was the LGBTQIA+ bibliographer and was responsible for Michigan State being among the first university libraries to begin collecting LBGTQIA+ material.”
“Going Out! In Detroit” is not available online but is still distributed to MSU’s Academic Center on Gender and Sexuality and the Resistance Bookstore in Ionia as free educational materials.
“I am very grateful to have learned and to have shed light on this part of our history, which has been marginalized and rarely captured by other documents on which we usually rely,” said Retzloff.
Retzloff will teach a course in advanced women’s studies in the spring of 2023, titled Doing Queer Histories, which serves as the capstone course for the minor in LGBTQ studies offered by GenCen.