Walter Brown

Walter Brown pic

September 19, 1938 – September 10, 1998

Walter Leroy Brown of Erie, formerly of Southgate, grew up in Ohio and as an employee of National Amusement later worked as a manager of cinemas in Ann Arbor and Detroit.  In the mid-1960s, he served as “mother of the bride” for a same-sex wedding held at the Park Lane Apartments across from the Diplomat Lounge in Detroit.  Brown died during heart surgery at age 59.

Monroe Evening News, September 12, 1998

Jim Toy

Jim Toy pic

April 29, 1930 – January 1, 2022

Denison University graduate James Willis Toy moved to Detroit in the late 1950s to become a church organist.  In 1970, he helped co-found the Detroit Gay Liberation Front and the Ann Arbor GLF.  A year and a half later co-founded the Human Sexuality Office at the University of Michigan, where he earned his MSW in 1981.  Toy’s activism and achievements for Michigan’s LGBTQ community are unparalleled.

Between The Lines, January 13, 2022

James W. Toy papers at the Bentley Historical Library

Virlena Reed

Virlena Reed pic

November 8, 1971 – November 27, 2016

Born in Toledo, Ohio, Virlena Cerese Reed of Ann Arbor, previously of Ypsilanti, graduated from Belleville High School and attended Washtenaw Community College.  She earned her Bachelor’s at Eastern Michigan University in 2000 and worked as a case manager as well as an artist.  Reed was survived by her son Christopher Fitzner-Reed and her co-parenting partner Melinda Fitzner.

Ann Arbor News, November 30, 2016

Thomas Turner

Thomas Turner pic

June 20, 1961 – November 3, 1989

Thomas Edward Turner, lifelong resident of Ann Arbor, was a 1979 graduate of Huron High School.  He went on to own and operate Parkway Printing Company.  During his two-year battle with illness, Turner became active with Friends/Huron Valley.  He died from AIDS-related complications at age 28.

Cruise, November 22, 1989

David Hutchinson

David Hutchinson pic

July 9, 1992 – May 16, 2021

Born in Missouri, Ann Arbor resident David Lawrence Hutchinson grew up in Kansas City, Kansas and earned his B.A. from Truman State University.  He went on to pursue his doctorate in history at the University of Michigan where his research interests included the Black diaspora, African American intellectual history, and queer studied.  Hutchinson was killed in an automobile accident at age 28.

Thatcher’s Funeral Home

Sandra Peckens

Sandra Peckens pic

May 27, 1949 – September 5, 2020

Sandra Lee Peckens of Harbor Springs was born in Ann Arbor and grew up in Otsego.  She earned her B.A. in social work from Michigan State University in 1971 and went on for her MSW, also at MSU.  Peckens career took her to hospitals in Metro Detroit and Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey.  She and her longtime partner Sally Hood were united in a civil union in 2008 and legally married in 2010.

Livingston Daily Press & Argus, September 8, 2020

Billi Gordon

Billi Gordon pic

September 2, 1954 – February 22, 2018

Wilbert Anthony “Billi” Gordon Jr. graduated from Union High School in Dowagiac, class of 1972.  He left seminary to attend the University of Michigan, where he became involved in gay activism, including as spokesperson for the Ann Arbor Black Gay Caucus.  Gordon went on to become a celebrated model, entertainer, writer, and neuroscientist.  He was survived by his spouse of 30 years Robert Schallert.

Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2018

Jim Martin

James Martin pic

April 5, 1944 – December 10, 1985

Born in Elmhurst, Illinois, James Martin earned his B.S. and M.S. from the University of Illinois before earning his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1969.  After a year clerking for a federal appeals judge, Martin joined the UM Law School and had a distinguished 15-year career there while living a discreet gay life in Ann Arbor.  He died from AIDS-related complications at age 41.

Ann Arbor News, December 22, 1985

Jennifer Holiday Chanel

Jennifer Holiday Chanel pic

June 9, 1969 – November 15, 2020

An early member of the House of Chanel, Jennifer Holiday Chanel graduated with the class of 1987 from Flint Central High School and went on to attend Eastern Michigan University.  She performed at the Nectarine in Ann Arbor, later worked at Gigi’s in Detroit, and won the Miss Gigi’s title in 1997.  The Performers Awards of Detroit honored Chanel with its Bookie Stewart Hall of Fame Award in 2017.

Between The Lines [online only], November 19, 2020

Nona McKenna

July 7, 1940 – October 20, 2008

Nona Diane McKenna of Dexter was born in the Upper Peninsula town of Hermansville, graduated from Roosevelt High School in Ypsilanti, earned her B.A. in physical education from Eastern Michigan University, and served in the U.S. Marines from 1961 to 1966.  In 1991, she and Sally Johnson became the first same-sex couple to register as domestic partners.  They married in California in 2008.

Ann Arbor News, October 23, 2008