This month, we are pleased to join the LGBTQIA+ community and allies in celebrating Pride Month. When it comes to fostering safe, inclusive environments for our team members, patients, health plan members and community, there is no compromise.
We are grateful for the many contributions, support, brilliance and light gifted to us by our LGBTQIA+ community. And, we commit to continuing our learning and improving the health, safety, well-being and greater sense of belonging for all.
1954 - 2018
Wilbert Anthony Gordon Jr. was born in Dowagiac, Michigan. Billi Gordon is most known for his drag queen performances. His entertainment career took off in the 1980s, when he appeared in several movies such as "The Party Animal" and "Coming to America" and shows like "Women in Prison" and "Married ... With Children."
In the mid-1990s, he completed his bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan. Gordon went on to earn a PhD in neuroscience, with research interests in interoceptive awareness (how we feel what we feel), neuroanatomy of emotion (why we do what we do), and pathophysiology of stress as an antecedent to disease and communication between the microbiome and the brain.
1958 - Present
Chris Kolb served three terms (2001 - 2007) as the first openly gay member of the Michigan House of Representatives. In the House, he supported environmental legislation, lower tuition at state universities and sexual orientation-based legal protections.
During his career, he has held numerous positions in state and local government, public policy and community relations. He served as executive director of Unity Michigan, a statewide coalition of LGBT advocacy groups; as president and CEO of the Michigan Environmental Council; and as Michigan’s budget director under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. He currently serves as vice president of government relations at the University of Michigan, his alma mater.
1977 - Present
Born Trish Best in Detroit, rapper Feloni debuted her first single, “Brand New,” in 2006. That same year, she was profiled in the MTV docuseries “Coming Out Stories.” It was the first time an “out” urban artist was featured on the network.
In 2007, Feloni became the first "out" urban artist to release a hip-hop album, “A Woman's Revenge.” The album speaks exclusively from a lesbian perspective. She is an independent artist and releases her music on her own indie label, Trak Diamond Records. She describes her sound as “Raw … I want to talk about life from my perspective.”
1949 - Present
Gayle Rubin, a University of Michigan associate professor, has been a groundbreaking theorist and activist in feminist, LGBTQ and sexuality studies for nearly 50 years. Her work in the 1970s impacted feminist thinking and theory.
Later work examined how certain sexual behaviors can be framed as moral and natural, while others are considered unnatural, an essay that became a foundational text within the field of queer theory. Rubin’s writing has shaped the thinking of the modern feminist and LGBTQ movements.
1952 - Present
The daughter of Chinese immigrants to the United States, Helen Zia was living in Detroit when Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man, was murdered there in 1982. She was instrumental in bringing federal civil rights charges against his assailants and in igniting a response to the crime through her journalism and advocacy.
She has worked on issues including human and women’s rights, as well as efforts to counter hate-based violence and homophobia. In 2008 she married her partner, making them one of the first same-sex couples to legally marry in California. Her books focus on Asian American experiences and history.
1943 - 1992
Jim Dressel was an Air Force veteran, a Vietnam veteran and still in the Air National Guard when he was elected in 1978 to the Michigan House of Representatives.
In 1983, the conservative Republican co-sponsored House Bill 5000, an amendment to the state's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment and housing. The bill died in committee and soon after, Dressel lost the primary for his reelection to a fourth term. After leaving the Legislature, Dressel came out and dedicated himself to gay rights issues. He died in March 1992 of AIDS-related pneumonia.
1927 - 1993
Born in Detroit, Michigan, James Herlihy was an openly gay man and used his writings as a vehicle to address taboo subjects. He is most known for his novels “All Fall Down” and “Midnight Cowboy.”
Over the course of his career, he wrote award-winning novels, plays and short stories, which shared themes of displacement, alienation and loss of innocence. Aside from writing, he also acted in plays and movies, and even guest starred on the TV series “Route 66.” Tennessee Williams was a close friend and mentor, who encouraged Herlihy to share his voice with the world.
1925 - 1993
Painter Leroy Foster is sometimes called “Detroit’s Own Michelangelo” in recognition of his large-scale murals for public spaces. He was born in Detroit and worked in the city for his entire career, except for a short time studying in Europe.
He overcame the prejudices of his era toward Black and gay men to become one of the city’s most well-known artists. He was committed to African American history and culture, serving as artist-in-residence at what is now the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The winner of numerous awards and the subject of several exhibits during his lifetime, his work still influences artists today.
1873 - 1979
Sara Josephine Baker began her career when only 6% of doctors were female. She went on to create early effective public health policies to save countless people from misery and early death.
She was the first woman to serve as a health official in a major city, and her work in New York City concentrated on the squalid conditions of immigrant communities and high infant mortality rates. By one estimate, her work saved the lives of over 90,000 infants. She helped prevent a deadly typhoid epidemic by identifying the disease super-spreader known as Typhoid Mary. One historian described her as “a rule-breaking feminist lesbian.”
1954 - 1995
A longtime resident of Lansing, Michigan, Jewell was a renowned Black lesbian feminist activist, poet and speaker. While attending Montclair State College in New York, she became politically active in the feminist movement.
In 1990, she wrote an article about coming out as a lesbian to her mother titled “A Short Account of My Behavior.” Her poetry and critical essays appeared in over 300 publications in the United States and internationally. The Terri L. Jewell papers collection (1968 – 1996) is available at Michigan State University.