Monica Mills has for many years and in many ways been one of the greatest allies to Metro Detroit’s LGBT Community. Her goodly passion for volunteerism is inspiring. With decades of experience in bettering our community, she has worked with Gay Latinos, Arab Americans, African Americans, the Lesbian Community, and our youth. She has been longtime friend of Ferndale and its gay community, establishing benefits for Michigan AIDS Coalition such as the Ferndale Blues and Music Festival.
First, what drove you to become an ally, especially in a period of this country’s history when the gay stigma was arguably at its strongest?
I worked with Craig Covey, whom I first met as my neighbor, at the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project, and I learned a lot about the LGBT Community. There was huge progress in acceptance of the community, especially in a place like Ferndale. We worked with Gay Latinos, Arabs, African Americans, the Lesbian Community, and of course youth. It was a great way to understand diversity.
What was it like being an ally in that time? What challenges accompanied that?
I needed to learn a lot, but I think it is just normal growth that we all experience, particularly in the ever-changing work environment. HIV/AIDS was devastating to the Gay Community, but it also opened doors to growth and acceptance in the vast health care field, in government, and in research and philanthropy.
What’s different between being an ally today and being an ally in the 90’s?
It really is getting easier. The Gay Rights Movement is suddenly more than forty years old, and huge progress has been made. Those who still don’t like or accept or understand gay people are in an every growing minority. The battles have almost all been won. The war is almost over. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
Over the years, you’ve done a lot of volunteering in Ferndale—for example, the Ferndale Blues Festival. Of all places, how and why did you choose Ferndale?
This has been my home for most of my life. I was here in Ferndale before it became cool to live here. I went to school here. I have enjoyed being a big part of making it better. That is what volunteerism does… It brings you closer to real people and gives you satisfaction in being part of a community.
When did you begin working with the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project? How involved were you then, compared to now?
My neighbor was and still is Craig Covey, who has led most of the region’s LGBT or AIDS groups for decades, and he hired me part time at MAPP. That would have been the late 90’s, and he was a great mentor. We put on pub crawls, blues festivals, pride banquets and festivals, and more. Now my husband and I have started a new annual event called the Anniversary of the END of Prohibition Party. And I still work full time for Michigan AIDS Coalition. In fifteen years or so we have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for various causes and efforts.
From your childhood, what do you remember most about the way people reacted toward the LGBT community? Did you think your trajectory was affected by these experiences?
I knew little about the community growing up; it wasn’t on most of our radars. But I did have a few co-workers way back when who were gay. It just never seemed to me to be an issue. But I have met so many neat and interesting people over the years. You can’t hate a group if you get to know and like some of them.
What is the most memorable experience that you’ve had working and volunteering with the LGBT community?
Back a decade ago or more, when I think Craig was still mayor, those nasty followers of Rev. Phelps from Kansas came to protest in Ferndale against gay rights and our churches. We all went to our local churches together and crossed picket lines of Phelp’s haters. That was a unifying moment. I also am moved each year at the church services held for people with HIV/AIDS.
If there were one message you could deliver to all of Metro Detroit about the LGBT community, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to demand your rights and your fair share. This community is yours as much as anyone’s. Be courageous. Stand up for what you know is right.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Please come out and support the Ferndale Blues and Music Festival, Jan 23-31, 2015 www.ferndalebluesfestival.org and other Michigan AIDS Coalition events and programs, www.michiganaidscoalition.org
We have tons of volunteer opportunities.