March 29, 1908 or 1916 – September 2, 1981
A native of Chicago, Samuel Fouche performed in the 1930s as Peggy Joyce at nightclubs in New York and became famous as the “Sepia Mae West.” By the early 1940s, he was living in Detroit and working as a waiter. In later life, Fouche found employment as a steward on an ocean liner, a job that took him to such ports of call as Columbia, France, Spain, Panama, and Venezuela.
Tampa Tribune, September 5, 1981
August 6, 1929 – December 26, 2009
Rene Delos Amaya earned his A.B. at Adrian College in 1951 and his Masters from the University of Michigan in 1959. He worked as a librarian at the Detroit Public Library, Oakland Community College, and the Los Angeles Public Library. As a resident of Boston-Edison in the 1970s, Amaya pressed Detroit to redefine family in its zoning ordinance. He was survived by his partner of 45 years John C. Lodge.
Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2010
August 22, 1995 – December 11, 2021
Former Plymouth resident Suraj Mathew Mahadeva studied neuroscience and dance at Michigan State University, where he decried cultural appropriation. After earning his Bachelor’s in 2018, he moved to Chicago and became a medical clinician. Active in Asian and LGBTQ communities, Mahadeva was shot and killed on the porch of a friend’s home by an unknown assailant.
Between The Lines, December 22, 2021 [online only]
February 20, 1989 – November 19, 2022
LGBTQ community artist, activist, and icon Marissa “Rizza” Marie Benton attended Haslett High School, where as a senior they won a portfolio award for their art. They were later stylist at and operator of the Roots Hair Lounge salon at Wild Ferns Wellness in Lansing. Benton also served on the board of the Salus Center. They were survived by their son Oliver and by five days by their partner Sydney Eckhoff.
WKAR, December 9, 2022
Gorsline Runciman Funeral Homes
August 7, 1964 – May 27, 1991
Jamaican-born Duane Ivanhoe Richards graduated from Lansing Everett High School, attended the University of Michigan. and went on to work as a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines. He shared a home in Detroit and later Atlanta with Brent Dorian Carpenter, his life partner of more than four years, who was at his side when Richards passed away. He died from AIDS-related complications at age 26.
Lansing State Journal, May 31, 1991
Between The Lines, May 23, 2002
November 4, 1966 – September 11, 1997
A Lansing native Juan Hernandez graduated with the class of 1984 from Eastern High School. Hernandez became involved with the Lansing Area AIDS Network in the 1990s. He died from AIDS-related complications at age 30.
Lansing State Journal, September 14, 1997
October 1, 1956 – July 2, 2021
Born in Flint, Denis Christopher-Ryan graduated from Southwestern High School in 1974. He held retail and bank jobs before working at Genesee County Mental Health, where he retired after 20 years of service. In the mid-1990s, he served as a DJ at the short-lived gay nightclub Studio 910. Christopher-Ryan moved to Las Vegas in 2001 and held a second career in the hospitality industry.
Davis Funeral Homes & Memorial Park
September 8, 1950 – April 5, 2019
Ecorse resident and beloved Chippewa and Pottawatomi artisan James Aquash was born into the Walpole Island First Nation in Ontario, Canada. In the early 1970s, he became involved with the gay liberation movement on the Wayne State University campus. As a longtime member of the local Native community, Aquash was noted for presenting his beadwork and basket weaving at area pow wows.
Wallaceburg Courier Press, April 18, 2019
December 9, 1946 – October 21, 2020
Born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised by his mother in Detroit, Frederick Weston attended the High School of Commerce and went on to earn his Bachelor’s from Ferris State. In his 20s, he moved to New York, where he worked low-paying jobs while relishing the gay scene and creating an array of visual arts. A long-term survivor of AIDS, Weston gained recognition for his artistic genius only late in life.
POZ, October 29, 2020
New York Times, November 18, 2020
September 28, 1937 – September 2, 1985
A native of Dayton, Ohio, Clifford William Kelley worked as a regional sale representative for Detroit Edison and was involved in Wayne County politics. While separated from his wife, he was found murdered in his Royal Oak apartment. Known as “John” in the gay world, Kelley was last seen leaving an adult bookstore near Woodward and Six Mile in Detroit with another male.
Detroit Free Press, September 6, 1985
Cruise, November 13, 1985