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March 26, 2014

‘A supportive place’

Affirmations celebrating 25 years helping LGBT community

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

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‘A supportive place’
Affirmations, a nonprofit organization located in Ferndale that serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, will celebrate its 25th anniversary April 5 at Cobo Hall in Detroit.

FERNDALE — In 1992, only three years after Affirmations had opened in Ferndale, Kathleen LaTosch attended a meeting in the organization’s original facility in a converted apartment complex at 195 W. Nine Mile Road.

During this group session, LaTosch came out to those in attendance for the first time. LaTosch and her partner met ian college and moved to Ferndale shortly afterward, and Affirmations provided a safe, supportive environment for LaTosch to make the tough decision.

“I originally came out at Affirmations during one of their groups in 1992 because they provided a supportive place for me to do that,” LaTosch said. “After I came out, I went out and did my own thing, but I came back to help Affirmations with their mission.”

On April 5, Affirmations, a nonprofit organization that serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in southeast Michigan, will celebrate its 25th anniversary at the Cobo Center in Detroit.

In those 25 years, Affirmations has grown from the meetings in the old apartment complex to running multiple programs from its 16,000-square-foot building at 290 W. Nine Mile.

“There are young people in their 20s who are not out at work because they are concerned about their professional repercussions,” LaTosch said. “The number of LGBT people who are homeless is huge, because people get kicked out of their homes and people are not feeling supported. This is why organizations like Affirmations have to exist.”

Affirmations opened in the spring of 1989 after splitting off from the Michigan Organization for Human Rights. MOHR split into Affirmations, which served as support for those in the LGBT community, and into Equality Michigan, which focuses more on the policies, advocacy and legal issues affecting the LGBT community.

Choosing Ferndale made sense geographically, Director of Communications Cass Varner said, and remaining there made even more sense.

“Location was key, and there were a lot of people in the LGBT community living in Ferndale, plus it is a midpoint in southeast Michigan,” she said. “We are surrounded by a lot of neighboring communities, and we are on a bus line, so we considered Ferndale to be the hub of the area. We have remained in the area for 25 years for many of the same reasons. I think folks see us and it is easy to get to here, and I think we have established ourselves in Ferndale really well.”

One of the biggest undertakings Affirmations has had in 25 years was in 2005, when the staff embarked on a capital campaign to raise money to get a better location in Ferndale. During two years, Affirmations raised $5.3 million and moved from a 1,600-square-foot location to its current building.

The move allowed Affirmations to expand from being a supportive organization to bringing in programs and getting more involved in the advocacy, albeit not to the extent of Equality Michigan, Varner said.

In the past year alone, Affirmations has started to offer daily HIV/STD testing, and in November 2013, the organization received a grant to expand its health and wellness programming that helps educate nurses and mental health professionals.

Last October, Affirmations started offering an alternative high school program for LGBT students who want to earn their diplomas.

“We definitely started out as just a help line, but now we are able to offer programs in health and wellness, social and recreation,” Varner said. “We have additionally established counseling services, and we are able to bill insurance for those services. We are continuously moving in the direction of expansion.”

In 2000, LaTosch returned to help volunteer for the organization. In 2002, she became the special events and marketing manager, and eventually, she became the communications director.

While LaTosch doesn’t work at Affirmations full-time anymore, she still does consulting work for the organization. After 25 years, she said she still sees a need for Affirmations in the southeast Michigan area.

“I think it is so successful because there is always people who need support, and not just to come out, but just to be who they are,” she said. “We like to think our society has progressed, and it has on many levels, but that doesn’t mean that a social change has taken place. Affirmations provides a safe place for people to be themselves, and they say it’s OK to be gay, transgender or bi. What you are is OK, and you can be that way here.”

Looking to the future, Varner said Affirmations has numerous plans in motion and even more ideas that have yet to be realized. And while, eventually, the staff hopes there is no need for Affirmations and the world is totally accepting of the LGBT community, they will be around as long as there is a need.

“We have the second year of our Shore to Shore Equality Ride, and we hope that gains momentum, and we are looking for folks to get more involved,” she said. “We also want to target the allies and friends of the LGBT community, as we noticed we haven’t done a good job up to this point of reaching out to them specifically, and really focus on them. We just want to let our allies know this is a place they can come, too.”

Tickets are available for the Affirmations Silver Jubilee event for $150 for general admission, $300 for VIP and $500 to be a sponsor. For more information, visit www.goaffirmations.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Joshua Gordon at jgordon@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1077.