April 16, 1960 – January 4, 2018
Lesbian writer, filmmaker, and punk musician Rayya Mokdessy Elias was born in Syria, grew up in Metro Detroit, and graduated from Center Line High School. She moved to New York in the 1980s, returning intermittently to Michigan, living in Warren and Royal Oak. Elias directed the film shorts Anonymous and Lunchroom and authored the memoir Harley Loco. She was survived by Elizabeth Gilbert.
The Cut, January 5, 2018
The Alpha Wolf
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
August 18, 1972 – December 19, 1994
Adrian Travelle Davis of Detroit performed at the Peach Bowl with his middle school band and later directed the Murray Wright High School band and the a cappella quartet Gifted. Davis graduated from Cody High School in 1994 with plans to attend Ferris State University. He died from AIDS-related complications at age 22.
Detroit Free Press, December 22, 1994
October 19, 1951 – November 2, 2020
Debra Jean McGee was a master drummer and a priest of Obatala in the Yoruba faith. After moving to Michigan from New York, she worked as a coordinator at the Flushing Senior Center, received her Bachelor’s from the University of Michigan-Flint, and earned her MSW at the UM School of Social Work, specializing in geriatrics. McGee and her partner Sandy Cleomaude married in Swartz Creek in 2017.
Swartz Funeral Home
April 1, 1983 – June 18, 1999
Swartz Creek resident Jason Michael Johnson was born in Flint and attended Swartz Creek High School. He was a member of the concert band and the swim team and participated in quiz bowl. He was also active in the online gay community. Johnson lost his life at age 16 in an automobile crash in I-75.
Between The Lines, July 1, 1999
October 3, 1928 – February 21, 2020
Benzonia resident and lifelong musician Nancy Pierce Kasperzak grew up in Metro Detroit and graduated from Birmingham High School. After divorcing and with her children grown, Kasperzak joined her childhood classmate Susan Reeder Breuer to forge a life partnership. They eventually settling on Crystal Lake in Benzie County and later, for a time had a horse farm. Breuer preceded her in death by four days.
Benzie County Record, March 4, 2020
December 14, 1936 – August 9, 2005
Detroit native Harvi Alonzo Griffin was a world-renowned harpist, singer, and teacher. He graduated from Cass Tech High School and earned a B.A. and his M.A. from Michigan State University, served in the U.S. Army from 1962 to 1964, and pursued further studies at the Eastman School of Music. Griffin moved to Phoenix in the late 1980s and was survived by his partner of 13 years Lee Barr.
Arizona Republic, August 21, 2005
April 16, 1950 – April 22, 2019
Battle Creek native Sue Ann Fitzgerald, known as “Drum Mama,” was a graduate of Lakeview High School and Central Michigan University, earning her M.S. in biology. At Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, she worked as a medical technologist for 34 years. Fitzgerald sang with the Sistrum chorus, was long active with the Girl Scouts, and regularly joined in MichFest and other womyn’s music gatherings.
Lesbian Connection September/October 2019
September 18, 1963 – April 3, 2020
Growing up in the 1970s, Ellen Marie Rogowski of Holly was the first girl to play in a boys’ baseball league in Royal Oak. She earned her B.A. and M.A. from Oakland University and taught middle school in Pontiac and English at Henry Ford Community College and Lewis College of Business. She was also an accomplished musician, releasing three albums. She and Rosemary Jozwiak shared 30 years together.
Sharp Funeral Homes
November 24, 1957 – November 6, 1996
Timothy Dean Stempniewski attended Aquinas High School in Southgate and held degrees in education, nursing, and music. He worked as a home-care nurse for Henry Ford Hospital and served as a church organist. In the 1990s he was active with several recovery groups at Affirmations. Stempniewski was found slain in his Detroit home at age 39.
OutPost, January 22, 1997