From then to now for the LGBT community

Twenty years ago, Jenny Bell was living “in the closet” as a married man with three children.

Bell felt quite lost in a community that lacked accessible resources, education, and advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. In 2002, Perceptions was launched. providing education, resources, networking and advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

One of many grateful to GLBP, Bell, 65, now spends a lot of time volunteering with the organization and has done so for six years since she left. She is also one of the facilitators of a transgender group through GLBP.

About 300 people gathered at the Midland County Club on Thursday to celebrate 20 years of Great Lakes Bay Pride (GLBP), formerly Perceptions, and to raise funds for another 20 years.

living a lie

Living in the closet without an outlet led Bell down a path of self-destruction, she said, including a suicide attempt.

When asked what life might have been like if 2002 offered the same climate for the LGBT community as 2022, she replied that she would have been a happy woman.

“I would have lived my identity,” Bell said. “I can’t say that I had a lot of life. I was a man on the outside, but inside I was a woman.”

Perceptions helped Bell find himself. She said she tried three other bands before finding Perceptions. She said that’s when she really faced her way of life and found there was another way. However, it came at a cost. She said his ex-wife and three children disowned him.

“I am now the woman I was never allowed to be,” Bell said, noting that she is on hormone therapy. “It’s a horrible way to live to be called sir, sir or hi buddy.

“I’ve wasted my life so much denying who I really am.”

another time

Twenty years ago, Bill Ostash was 38 and barely coming out of the closet. Life was a different stage for the LGBT community then than it is now.

The town of Saginaw’s first openly gay elected official grew up in a Catholic family that believed he had to grow up, graduate from high school, find a good job and start a family.

He didn’t know what reaction to expect when he came out to his parents.

“When I told my mum I was gay, she said, ‘Is that it? ‘” Ostash said.

It was the same with his father. In fact, Ostash said he and his dad grew closer after he told her.

“My family was very accepting,” he said. “They always are.”

Yet at the time, while he was away, Ostash said he still feared retaliation from others who were less tolerant.

“You were still out, but still scared back then,” Ostash said of the time 20 years ago. ” This is not the case today.

Ostash’s husband, Kevin Rooker, remembers being at Saginaw Bambi’s gay bar in the early 1980s. There would be people throwing glass beer bottles at patrons all night long.

“You couldn’t even get out of there for the drink,” Rooker said. “And the police wouldn’t do anything about it.”

Yet personally, the recently retired teacher had no problems. Other school officials he worked with, half of his students, and others knew he was gay. There were no problems. He also knows that his treatment was the exception rather than the rule based on what others were facing.

At Thursday night’s event, the group observed a minute’s silence for MyMichigan Health President and CEO Diane Postler-Slattery and her husband, Don, who died in a plane crash Tuesday in the northwest Florida.

The honorary chairs for the 2022 event were Dow CEO Jim Fitterling and his husband Alex Lee. Fitterling said we must continue to support each other and support our region with understanding while demanding inclusion.

“At Dow, we understand that the future is created by what we do today,” he said.

Fitterling told the Daily News that the times of 20 years ago for the LGBT community were definitely riskier and it wasn’t as easy to be part of that community as it is today.

“Groups like (GLBP) exist to give people the support and the courage to live their own lives,” Fitterling said.

Amy McDonald who runs Intersections through Shelterhouse, a support group for LGBTQUA+ survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault that meets weekly. She said it’s impressive that Perceptions, now GLBP, started meeting in a small room upstairs and became a community built to support everyone.

McDonald said it was great to have Congressman Dan Kildee, Fitterling and Midland County Clerk Ann Manary in attendance at the event. Also in attendance was Midland School Board candidate Jennifer Ringgold. She wanted to support the GLBP event because it provides safe spaces for young people.

Also from Shelterhouse, Denise Berry was grateful for the partnership between Shelterhouse and GLBP.

Heidi Knizacky was at the event to support people and GLBP. The Saginaw Chair of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression Education became involved after finding that gay youth were disproportionately affected by mental health compared to straight youth. SOGIE recently became a 501(c)(3). She saw the stats and realized she had to get involved to help do something about it.

Chris Lauckner was also honored at the event for his nearly 20 years with Perceptions and then GLBP. He shared some of his stories over the years about what he has done with the organization and how they have helped others. Fitterling said he was happy to be part of the event that honored Lauckner.

The tides are changing

Midland’s Gerald Bruce and his wife, Kim, are grateful for climate change for LGBT people 20 years ago. Two of their sons are gay, and Bruce’s older brother is also gay. He sees a big difference between when his brother came out and when his now young adult sons came out when they were teenagers.

“It’s very nice to see the progress,” Bruce said, noting in particular the number of people around the room.

He said the plight of his sons makes him stronger about inclusion.

“There’s been a lot of progress as a county,” Bruce said, citing the 2015 Marriage Equality Act and changes to the laws.

He remembers it being so different for his brother who was dating in the 1980s when AIDS was a big issue. Bruce was only 12 when his 29-year-old brother came out. He said his sons were more relaxed and his sons were more relaxed about it.

“I feel very lucky that we supported our sons who are coming out,” he said. “I know that’s not always the case for the LGBT community. The gay community was not supported as much as it is today. I think we’ve made great progress.”

About Bradley J. Bridges

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