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
October 1, 1983 – February 21, 2003
Southfield resident Nikki Nicholas, an entertainer in Detroit gay bars, was found slain at age 19 in what the Triangle Foundation identified as an anti-trans hate crime in an abandoned house in Green Oak Township. The Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project held a candlelight vigil in her memory and the National Association for the Advancement of Transgender People later marched in Lansing in her honor.
Between The Lines, March 6, 2003
The Final Assault on Nikki
July 23, 1953 – May 1, 2019
Warren resident Chrissy Surewater attended Fordson High School in Dearborn, studied at Rochester College in Rochester, and worked at Precision Imagery and as a photographer for Ford Motor Company. She was also a longtime member of the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, for three years serving as office administrator. Surewater was survived by her beloved fiancé Michelle Fox-Phillips.
Between The Lines, May 2, 2019 [online only]
September 7, 1922 – May 30, 1997
Detroit native Augustus Herman Rissman was better known to members of the local gay community as Gorgeous Gussy. Noted for “a gravelly voice and gruff manner,” Rissman entertained audiences throughout the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s at such Detroit bars as the Golden Slipper, LaRosa’s, the Diplomat, and the Gold Dollar.
Cruise, June 18, 1997
December 7, 1960 – May 12, 2020
Originally from North Carolina, Redford resident and trailblazing activist Aimee Stephens was fired from her job as a funeral director in Garden City in 2013 when she revealed she was transgender and would be living as a woman. She filed suit against her employer but did not live to witness the Supreme Court decision that her firing violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Stephens was survived by her wife Donna.
New York Times, May 12, 2020
Between The Lines, May 18, 2020 [online only]
September 15, 1948 – May 20, 1977
Billie Jean Truitt was born in Detroit worked as a hotel clerk. Truitt was, in the terminology of the 1970s, a “post-op transsexual” when she took her own life in her Detroit apartment at age 28. She was survived by her fiancé Art Walker.
Detroit Free Press, May 25, 1977
September 16, 1954 – February 23. 2019
Jeri Shupe of Pontiac grew up in Taylor and graduated with the class of 1972 from Taylor High School. She worked variously as a ballroom dance instructor, a law office manager, and a licensed cosmetologist. Shupe was active in the Flint-area group Transgender Connect and in 2016, according to her obituary, transitioned from male to female. Her life partner Diane Morin survived her.
Sparks-Griffin Funeral Home
October 26, 1942 – January 15, 2018
Traverse City resident Gwen Sanford grew up in Grand Rapids, studied at Grand Rapids Junior College and Valparasio Technical Institute, and served as a trooper and diving instructor with the Michigan State Police from 1966 to 1992. After retiring, the former Glenn transitioned to Gwen and later served on the board of Friends North. Sanford was survived by her wife Carol Larson and three children.
Traverse City Record-Eagle, January 21, 2018
September 4, 1993 – June 11, 2019
Grand Rapids resident Alice Joy Anderson was born in Holland. Anderson’s creativity drew her to mythology, literature, music, architecture, history, and photography, and a passion for LEGO building blocks. Her studies took her to India and Iceland. At age 16, Anderson entered Hope College, where she worked as a set carpenter in the Theater Department and earned her B.A. in studio art in 2016.
Holland Sentinel, June 21, 2019
July 27, 1932 – July 18, 2017
Nancy Ledins was born in Cleveland, Ohio as William Griglak, was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1959, and served as an assistant rector at St. Anthony parish in Detroit in the early 1960s. After leaving the priesthood to marry a nun, William transitioned to Nancy in 1979 and was obliged to divorce. In her last years, Rev. Ledins resumed ministering with a congregation in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Charlotte Observer, July 22, 2017
Nancy S. Ledins profile at LGBT Religious Archives Network