AADL Talks To: Jerry DeGrieck
When: October 12, 2023
In this episode, AADL Talks To Jerry DeGrieck. Jerry was the first elected official to come out as gay in the U.S. alongside council member Nancy Wechsler in 1973. Both were members of the Human Rights Party, and in 1972 beat out local democrats and republicans for two seats on Ann Arbor’s City Council. Jerry recalls his time in Ann Arbor and discusses influential moments in his life politically and personally. Though Jerry moved to Seattle in 1974, he still remembers his time in Ann Arbor fondly, has visited several times over the years, and has maintained lifelong friendships that began here.
- [00:00:05] HEIDI: [MUSIC] Hi, this is Heidi.
- [00:00:06] ELIZABETH: This is Elizabeth. In this episode, AADL talks to Jerry DeGrieck. Jerry was the first elected official to come out as gay in the US alongside council member Nancy Wechsler in 1973. Both were members of the Human Rights party and in 1972, beat out local Democrats and Republicans for two seats on Ann Arbor City Council. Jerry recalls his time in Ann Arbor and discusses influential moments in his life, both politically and personally. Though Jerry moved to Seattle in 1974, he still remembers his time in Ann Arbor fondley, has visited several times over the years and has maintained lifelong friendships that began here. Usually we just start by asking, where did you grow up?
- [00:00:51] JERRY DEGRIECK: I grew up in Grosse Pointe Woods outside of Detroit in the 1950s and '60s. It was in all white, all Christian suburb and my graduating class in high school had 1,000 people in it, and everyone was White and everyone was a Christian, so it was a very narrow community, to say the least.
- [00:01:21] ELIZABETH: What brought you to Ann Arbor? When was that?
- [00:01:23] JERRY DEGRIECK: I came to Ann Arbor in the fall of 1968, and it was 50 miles from my home, but a lifetime away. From a very early age I knew that I was gay, but this was in the late '50s and '60s, so there was no outlet for me in any way to do that. I knew I was different from a very early age, and the way that I expressed my difference was to get political. From a very early age I was very active politically when I was a teenager in the Democratic Party, teen democrats and gravitated towards a pro civil rights movement and the lettuce and great boycotts and those issues. It was a way for me to differentiate myself from my family and to be who I was even though I couldn't really be who I was because I was gay but, one could not be gay in that era. I was very ready to lead where I grew up and Ann Arbor in 1968, in the fall of '68, was a very different place. Then I grew up in a very dynamic atmosphere and environment, I was ready.
- [00:02:30] ELIZABETH: You mentioned Ann Arbor was a little different than the environment you grew up in. How is it different than now? What was it like back then?
- [00:02:36] JERRY DEGRIECK: Well just the diversity, even though it was not as racially diverse as it should have been. It had many more different people from all over the world and all over the country than I had been exposed to in the environment which I grew up in though I did, you know, venture out in terms of my teen years and through statewide issues in organizations did meet a variety of people and it made me want to be more politically involved and to be engaged with a lot more different folks. It was very a politically charged atmosphere at the time the anti-war movement was clearly growing and was very prominent. The student rights movement was very prominent. I wasn't real involved in a lot of political things in my freshman year. I think the Tenants Union was the first issue that I got involved in in the second semester of my freshman year. That would have been in early 1969. Just being in Ann Arbor to the University of Michigan taking classes and meeting lots of different people, and being exposed to different things and politics was an eye opener for me. Somewhat intimidating at times too, but still very invigorating.
- [00:04:06] HEIDI: What did you study at U of M?
- [00:04:08] JERRY DEGRIECK: I joked to my friends that I've studied mainly politics. I was very involved politically, but in terms of the classes I took were primarily history and political science. We had the requirements in those days, I also took Spanish and psychology, and other courses like that. I did have some professors, primarily in the history department. I don't remember their names, but I really enjoyed their classes and learning from them. The Ann Arbor campus is just quite beautiful too. I was at Markley Hall my freshman year, which is fairly near the arboretum. Just from a social standpoint to being able to meet a lot of different people and get involved was great.
- [00:04:56] ELIZABETH: Was the student counsel you served there at U of M? Correct. Was that your first foray into politics?
- [00:05:02] JERRY DEGRIECK: Well, I wouldn't say it was my first foray into elected politics, yes. It was in the fall of my sophomore year at the university. After my freshman year, I did go home and live with my family for that summer. That was the last time I lived there, and I knew that that was going to be the last time that I was going to stay there and in subsequent summers, I stayed in Ann Arbor while I was on school and then the city council. But yes, I ran for student council as an independent lefty type in the fall of 1969, that would have been. I still I wasn't real involved in young Democrats at the time, but I think I even included that in my campaign literature about my background and stuff. I was elected on the city council, and then you got involved in lots of different issues through the student council. Then I went on and ran as the vice presidential candidate for student council in the spring of early 1970. I guess it would have been, '69, '70 and was on the council, and during that time, both at the time I was, was a member of the Student Council and then later as the vice president of the student council, I became more and more radical and meeting lots of more radical folks, including members of the International Socialists, and was certainly attracted to their politics and to the student movement. I think the bookstore issue, creating the bookstore was one of the first issues I got really involved in, and that was in the fall of 1969, I believe. Where we had lots of demonstrations and that was quite exhilarating. That was the thing. I was involved with the tenants union, but I really feel in my freshman year, but I didn't feel like I really knew what I was doing and in the bookstore fight, I felt more confidence and more aware of what we were trying to do, which was to create a student run bookstore. Meaning that we would not have to rely on the traditional for profit stores that were charging exorbitant amount for books and other things, that we would have a real student run bookstore. That was a student power issue that I really got involved in and enjoyed working on, and was exposed to a lot of people in that. Clearly, there were some very radical elements in that movement who were really trying to push a broader agenda as well. Which I learned about and in part embraced.
- [00:08:06] ELIZABETH: After the student council, you in 1971 ran as a write in candidate for the radical Independent Party. How did that transition?
- [00:08:15] JERRY DEGRIECK: Well, through my time on the student council, I got to know more and more folks on the left and anti war issues and I can't remember exactly when the black action movement happened too, that was a big deal when I was on the student council as well, and that movement pushed the university to make a commitment to have, I believe it was 10% black enrollment by a certain date. The university never achieved that goal, unfortunately, but the black action movement was quite strong and the student government fully supported them, though we were not directly involved in the negotiations. We were also just staying with my time on the student council too. Is that we really, that was when I think the university established the office of student services and had the vice president of student services, and there was an office of student Services policy board that I was on as well that was like the student voice to oversee and direct what that office was going to be doing or at least to have some say in it. I was very involved at the time when I was a student leader in terms of demonstrations against the war and anti racism and supporting workers rights. Yes, indeed. I did have a lot of contact with university leaders, particularly Bob Canals, who was the head of the faculty at the time and his assistant Chichi or Angela Lawson. I negotiated with Fleming as well actually. Bob Canals became a good friend of mine over the years and I'm still in touch with him. He is now, I think 92 years old and stuff and lives in Saugatuck, Michigan. Anyway, that's just an aside, but I was very involved in negotiating and demonstrating at regions meetings and all those things. I never saw a contradiction in terms of talking with the university officials. I never felt I was selling out. It was a matter of being transparent in terms of what our politics were, what we wanted, and negotiate with the university but always in an upfront, I think, way, and not in a way that compromised my politics or the politics of the people that I was representing when I was on the student council. Then in terms of the city council, we formed the Radical Independent Party, I believe in the fall of 1970, must have been the fall of 1970, we formed the Radical Independent Party. We decided that electoral politics was a good vehicle to create change because you could reach people and you could educate people.
- [00:11:24] JERRY DEGRIECK: It seemed like a good way to proceed in advancing our politics, and the party perspective we had is that the individuals who would run for office would represent the people who came to the general meetings of the party, who adhere to the basic principles of the party, that we would be their representatives and not be like individualistic. People individually pushing what they wanted or their own agenda, but rather the party's agenda. So that's the perspective we took. I can't remember how I agreed to run or it was the second ward that I ran in in 1971 as a writing candidate. But somehow I did agree to do that. We couldn't get on the ballot because of the rules in Michigan, so we had to be writing, we did campaigning. I think the reason why I ran a year later is I felt that I didn't do a very good job, or one of the reasons why I ran a year later is that I felt I didn't do a very good job in campaigning that first year, and I grew up Catholic, so I had all this Catholic guilt, even though I wasn't practicing Catholic even then, so I wanted to redeem myself in some way. But we did not win. We also ran a white man for mayor, I think it was Cornell, it's his last day, and then I ran in the second ward. I think we were the only two candidates. We were both white men. It is interesting because during that time, the women's movement, of course, became very paramount, and so things were radically changing within the party as well, around the role of women and then equality. The other thing that I have to say is that, one of the things that I did that was very eye-opening, going back a bit in terms of my time in our bureau was going to national demonstrations in Washington, DC. I think the first one I went to [NOISE] was in the, I could have this run. But I think in the fall of my sophomore year went to a very big anti-war demonstration in Washington, DC, and that was very eye-opening and very exhilarating for me. But I think the point I was trying to make is that a lot of folks in the anti-war movement and in politics were extremely sexist and macho and very not welcoming to women and certainly not to gay people. I was still closeted at the time. I knew that I wanted to come out and I knew that I was gay. But I was a gay person in that era who I think needed to actually have a gay experience and fall in love with someone to be able to express who I was and that had never happened to me yet. I remember in the fall of 1971, I went to a psychiatrist at the University of Michigan Medical Services and had several sessions with her, and my stated goal to her was that I wanted help in coming out. This is in the fall of 1970, and she basically said to me is that if you want to be straight, I will help you, but I can't help you if you want to be gay. I mean, that was during the era when homosexuality was still considered abnormality. I knew at that point that I wanted help coming out. I knew I was gay, so I stopped going to her, obviously, because that was not what I wanted. We're now in 1971. After the City Council write-in campaign, I went to Washington, DC with a big May Day demonstration in May of 1971 with every state had like a group of leaders were going and I knew them and I went with a group from Ann Arbor to Washington, DC. Much to my surprise, people who I was going with really thought we were going to stop the government. I mean, that was their stated intention, and I thought that was definitely not going to happen. We weren't going to stop the government. We were going to tried to make a statement about the war and educate people and create a lot of attention, but certainly not. But there were people who really thought we were going to stop the government. Every state had their own part of Washington, DC that they were supposed to shut down. Like we were assigned to a certain circle or intersection and that was our post. I remember the morning that the first day of the demonstrations, the leader of the Michigan group was suddenly sick and she couldn't go, [LAUGHTER] which she had a history of doing, but the rest of us went out there and we were clearly just completely overwhelmed by tear gas and the police charging, and it was complete chaos. A lot of my friends got arrested that day, but somehow I managed not to. Then the second day was a big demonstration at the justice department. It was a sit-in on the grounds of the justice department. I was a part of that, and I think I was ready to be arrested that day. I guess we know this is what we need to do. I was arrested with several of my friends. Unfortunately, I got separated from my friends and I was in the DC jail, a jail cell that was meant for like two people and there were like 14 or 15 of us and we were there for like 2.5 days. It was one of the most alienating experiences in my life, and that's where I experienced a lot of sexism and machoism on the part of the other men. I think talking to some of the women who were arrested, there was much more of a supportive atmosphere or environment with folks, but I found it extremely alienating. We eventually got out of jail two and a days later, and it was rate to be out of jail, I never wanted to go back again. Anyway, I returned to Ann Arbor after that, and then continued to be very politically active. In the fall, I think the fall of '71 is when we were looking to merge with the statewide human rights party, at the statewide level of a group of Disaffected Democrats, or in the Human Rights Party. There was a big debate within the radical Independent Party of whether or not we should join the Human Rights Party. Would that be selling out because they didn't have the leftist politics, socialist politics we had, and then so on. But I think the right decision we came to was that we can talk to ourselves all we want. But if we want to reach a broader spectrum of people who may be ready for change, we should join with the Human Rights Party and maybe be a caucus within the Human Rights Party. That's what we decided to do and that was also a vehicle for us to actually get on the ballot for the city council races in the spring of 1972. That's what we did, and we ran a full slate of candidates for all five council districts. There were two council members from each district, but each year one of those council members was elected, and then there was an elected mayor who sat with the council. There were 11 votes on the council. By then we had established that on the steering committee of the Radical Independent Party/Human Rights Party, that we were going to have an equal number of women and men on the steering committee. Therefore, when we ran races, we ran a woman for mayor, as well as for the council district 2, which was the student-dominated district, which was the district that we would most likely be able to win. We nominated Nancy Wexler for that role, and I agreed to, or got talked into, or a combination of that ran in the first ward. The first ward was not student dominated that would had a fair number of students in it, but it also was one of the perhaps most working class ward in the city and somewhat diverse as well. I ran in that ward. Many people thought we would win in the second ward, but probably not in the first ward. I didn't think we were likely to win in the first ward. I was actually thinking about leaving Ann Arbor shortly after I graduated in '72, and after the election, I might stay on for a little bit to help Nancy if she won, but that I would leave. But we ran a very creative campaign, lots of grassroots support. The other interesting part of the party in those days is that the Rainbow People's Party actually became part of the Human Rights Party. Well, that's not exactly correct. We thought they were joining the Human Rights Party and would be a caucus within the Human Rights Party. But I think they always thought were in a coalition with the Human Rights Party. There was a lot of tension there between the Rainbow People's Party and the rest of the Human Rights Party. But they ran their candidate. We ran a Rainbow People's Party candidate in the third ward. Anyway, long story short, we won the election. It was totally exhilarating. Complete surprise that we won two seats. We were the youngest council members ever elected in Ann Arbor and probably elsewhere too. We got a lot of notoriety right away because of our youth and because we were a third party. On the council, it was really interesting because no party had a majority in my first year around the council. The Republicans had five votes, the Democrats with the mayor had four votes, and we had two votes, and in order to get anything through, you needed to have at least six votes.
- [00:22:41] JERRY DEGRIECK: It was more fun. I was the City Council representative on the Planning Commission too, which was great because I learned a whole lot. The thing about being a party platform, in the Human Rights Party, when we ran for CASA, was extremely progressive. We had, sex change operations on demand, for example, was in our platform. This was in 1972, not so radical anymore. But I knew that in order for us to be able to have people pay attention to our sometimes way-out politics, we needed also to take very seriously the mundane kinds of things that city governments do. I've learned a whole lot and was very involved in all of those issues, including the Planning Commission issues. The party, the way that it was structured was that basically we were beholden to what was decided by the general meetings that anyone could come to who adhered to our principles, as well as a steering committee that was elected from the general meetings. That, in reality, we knew what the party stood for. So it wasn't like there were meetings about every issue coming before the City Council because that would be impossible. One of our big achievements in the first year that I was on the council was passing what may have been the first, in those days it wasn't LGBTQ, it was, sexual minorities, people based on their sexual preference but a nondiscrimination ordinance in housing, public accommodations, and employment ordinance. We were able to get that through, which was great. I was still not open at the time. I did not run as an openly gay person nor did Nancy Wexler because we hadn't dealt with it personally. We were very much involved with getting support from the gay community though, like the Gay Liberation Front, I went to meetings of them when I was on both the student council and then running for office and then when I was on the City Council as well. When we were running for office the first time, Gay Liberation Front actually said, well, if we endorse you, that might hurt you in your election. Nancy and I said, no, we want your endorsement and we will publicize it, we want your support. They did endorse us, and we did publicize it. Now, that group, the difference a year later was completely different, they were much more militant a year later because that was the nature of the evolving political scene at that time. In the late '60s and early '70s, people became more radicalized more quickly because of the gay movement, because of the black movement, because of the women's movement, I think. Anyway, we brought lots of issues that had never before been before the City Council. We had demonstrations at the City Council. Now, part of what we were trying to do is educate, part of what we were trying to do was to demonstrate that there wasn't a difference between the Democrats and Republicans, that the Democrats were not going to bring change, that it had to be from a party that was more leftist. Then we also recognized, certainly when I was on the part of the Independent Party and Human Rights Party and on the council, the interconnection of different movements. That's, obvious today, but in those days, it was somewhat not as clear that there is a connection between the Gay Movement, the Black Action Movement, the Anti-war Movement, Anti-racism, etc, all of those kinds of connections. I learned a whole lot on the council and it was also a time of very much personal growth. Actually, through a friend of a roommate who was bisexual, I became very good friends with, and this would have been in late 72. Yes, late 72. Early 73, I became good friends with this guy who was a bisexual and we were very close but nothing ever happened between us until the morning he was going to leave town for a few weeks to visit his family. So he came to my apartment and we embraced. It was the first time I had embraced a man and kissed a man. It was totally exhilarating for me. He went, he flew up. I, of course, had all these fantasies that we would live happily ever after. That, unfortunately, did not come to pass, he called me a week or so later and said that he decided to stay with his family, and he wasn't coming back to Ann Arbor except to pick up his things, so I was somewhat devastated and that put me back in the closet. No, it didn't put me back in the closet. It delayed my coming out, is what it did. Anyway, that would have been in 72, early 73 because in 73 was when we ran. Well, I should go back to the fall of 72, that was the year that McGovern was running for president, that there was a big debate within the Human Rights Party about whether or not we would put Benjamin Spock, who was a candidate of the People's Party nationally on the ballot in Michigan as a presidential candidate. There was a debate about whether to do that. Now, we ended up not putting him on the ballot because in order to remain on the ballot in Michigan, whoever your candidate was for the highest office that you were running in the state, in the presidential election, would be based on the number of votes that they received. With McGovern running, we figured that there was a good chance Spock would not get enough votes and we wouldn't be on the ballot. He did not get on the ballot. We didn't put him on the ballot, but we did. Our senatorial candidate, I think of the Human Rights Party statewide did get enough votes that we remained on the ballot. But we ran folks for the county commissioner in the fall of 1972 and did not win any of those races which was a downer because the expectations after we won the City Council race was that we would do better in future elections, and that did not come to pass. Then in the spring of '73 when we ran candidates for City Council, again, we again did not win, partly because the Democrats got smarter, and rather than having dull old university progressor types running as their candidates, they ran to women who were younger and much more progressive and dynamic against us. So they won, and we were wiped out in those elections. Then my second year on the City Council, starting in April '73, was not nearly as interesting because Republicans had a clear majority. Rob Harris, the Democrat, who had been mayor, was replaced by Jim Stevenson, and Republicans had a clear majority. They kicked me off the Planning Commission right away. It wasn't quite as interesting then. But we were able, at the end of 1972 though, to really affect the revenue sharing that the city received. In those days, the federal government was into revenue sharing, and lots of money would go to cities, and the cities could then determine how to spend those resources, those funds. So we were trying, of course, this was when no party had a majority on the City Council. We were able to direct a fair amount of money to free clinics, health care, childcare, human services, things of that nature. It was really a stressful time in a way because here we had this limited part of money, and everybody in our constituency wanted a piece of it. I was getting lots of phone calls and pressure from people. At the same time, we were negotiating with the Democrats.
- [00:31:30] JERRY DEGRIECK: To a lesser degree, the Republicans on the final package, and we could get everything we wanted in it, but we were able to, I think, direct a fair amount of resources to our priorities. That was something else we concretely did. We also during while I was on the council, rent control was a big issue and that we got on the ballot. But unfortunately, that did not pass either because of the immense campaign contributions of the realtors. Obviously, we're fighting uncontrol big time, or the apartment owners and so on. I'd say, we lost that fight as well. Anyway, the second year on the council was not quite as gratifying, but still we raised issues, we had demonstrations and so on. That is when Nancy and I both personally dealt with our own homosexuality in terms of having a relationship. I actually started a relationship with the guy. I worked but by the way, when I was on the city council, it didn't pay much. It didn't pay anything. I think we got a tiny stipend or expenses or something like that. I needed a job because I did not have a job. I applied for a job at the Del Rio Bar, which was an institution in Ann Arbor for many, many years. In those days, it was a collectively run bar. It was like the employees had a say in it. I remember applying for a job there. Some of the staff members were skeptical of me because I was on the council, and they thought I would alienate people who did not agree with my politics. I remember making this impassioned plea that I should not be discriminated against because of my politics and because I was on the council. They did hire me and I started as a doorman there. I was a doorman at the at the Del Rio bar for pretty much the whole time that I was on the city council. Right across the street from the Del Rio bar was the Flame bar. The Flame was the only gay bar in Ann Arbor, which of course I never went into because I was afraid, I guess. But some of the guys from the Flame would come over to the Del Rio bar late at night and I got to know one of them. The guy who I first had a relationship with was there. The Del Rio closed down only one day a year on Labor Day. They had a picnic for all staff and friends and patrons of the Del Rio. Joe and I met at the picnic and that's when our relationship started. The reason why this is relevant to the council then is that, until that time, Nancy and I had always talked about gay rights, LGBTQ rights, that we didn't use that term in those people over there. Nancy, at the same time, which I was not aware of, she started a relationship as well. My relationship started at the beginning of September. In October, there was an incident at the Rubayiat where women were dancing and they were stopped from dancing. Of course, that was in violation of the ordinance we had passed in terms of nondiscrimination and public accommodations. We had a demonstration at the city council, and Nancy and I, we wanted to come out because we could no longer talk about the rights of gay people without self-identifying that we indeed were gay people as well. We came out after being in the closet from the time I was eight until the time I was 23 and to everybody all at once because everybody immediately knew. Anyway, the reaction to our coming out on the council was interesting, to say the least. The members of the radical gay community, like the GLF folks, many of them were into at the time was called scag drag. You did not want to demonstrate your male privilege by being masculine and flannel, wearing flannel shirts, and being masculine and macho. I had always been attracted to more masculine men. The man I came out with was masculine. Some people in the GLF actually criticized me because I had not come out with the right person, which of course, here I've been through many years posited and not being able to deal with who I was. I finally am ready to come out and do come out and they're telling me I chose the wrong person. I knew that was BS. I didn't let it affect me or stop me. But it was an interesting reaction to get from some elements of the GLF community. Everybody knew, and as I said, everyone knew. People in the Human Rights party were mixed about it too, I think. It's not that they were against gay rights, but they didn't want the party to be solely identified as being, or gay people or about gay people. That our issues were broader. It was about the working class, it was about discrimination on the basis of race. The whole spectrum of issues. Here there are only two elected officials on the council where suddenly openly gay. Some folks were clearly concerned about that. The fact that we shut down a city council meeting because of the incident at the Rubayiat, why didn't we do it for other reasons? Of course, we would have done it for other reasons had the people been there to demonstrate their issue before the council. But you can't, just two people on the council. We can walk away, but we can't shut it down. We actually did shut down the council I think that night over the Rubayiat issue or a similar issue a little bit after that. Anyway, it was an interesting reaction. One thing I want to go back to is because one of the big things we did and when I first got on the city council was of course, around marijuana and the infamous five-dollar fine. The Rainbow People's Party were really pushing for that to be a major issue. We were somewhat reticent about pushing that as the first and most important issue because we didn't want to be identified solely as pot-smoking hippies. But we tried to talk about it in the terms of legalization of all drugs, decriminalization of it, treatment services and in that context, the best we could do in terms of marijuana was to make a five-dollar fine because we couldn't legalize it at the local level because of state law. We did pass that ordinance and the Rainbow People's Party was very happy and we were very glad it passed too. We believe in decriminalization and $5 was the best we could do. But I remember being offered a joint at a city council meeting when we passed it and I declined to take it because at the party to be solely identified with smoking dope. Though I personally, in that era, I did smoke a lot of dope. I will readily admit that. What I should have also talked about is the caucuses within the Human Rights Party. I can't remember exactly when they were formed, but I think it was in early '72, it might have been in late '71, free caucuses emerged. There was the Chocolate Almond caucus which were more of the international socialist folks who I really respected and really learned a great deal from. They had more pure politics in terms of ideology and learning and background in it than I certainly have. That was one group and then there was a Rainbow People's Party was another faction. Then there was the Militant Middle, we were called. I was a member of the Militant Middle caucus, but I really didn't see that much difference in terms of the Militant Middle and the chocolate almond caucus in terms of more about the issues and connections that we saw politically. But they were, I think, more purist and less prone to compromise. Anyway, these three caucuses were dominant within the Human Rights Party. Again, with the Rainbow People's Party, it was that, I think saw themselves in coalition with the Human Rights party as opposed to a caucus within the Human Rights party, which is a difference. When we had the elections in '73 for the council, we actually had a primary and so we had Rainbow People's Party. I think particularly in the second ward. I know there was a Rainbow People's Party candidate, a Militant Middle candidate, and a Chocolate Almond Caucus candidate. I believe that the Chocolate Almond Frank Shoichet, who is still a friend of mine who lives in Seattle, was nominated for the second ward, if I'm remembering correctly, and lost. Then Beth Brunton, who also happens to be in Seattle, was our first ward candidate in 1973, and she lost as well. Again, in '73, other than for my own personal journey, it was not quite as exciting on the council, but I still was very, very much engaged in all that. The interest of the party itself in terms of city council, ebbed and flowed during the two years that I was on the council. Again, even though the general meetings and the steering committee reportedly was directing our work. In a lot of cases, it was our Nancy and my taking what we thought were from previous votes of the general meetings in the steering committee and the party platform, we could extrapolate out to vote and what to push forward and on the city council that was pretty evident. I did not run for re-election in '74. I thought about it, but I was 24, or how old was I?
- [00:43:02] JERRY DEGRIECK: This was in 1974 as I was 24. I was 22 when I was elected and then 24. So I'm still pretty young. I had just come out and I didn't really have much of a private life because my life was an open book. Because Nancy and I were kind of an anomaly, we had our own radio show weekly, we had a TV show not from the beginning, but maybe a few months into the council on a weekly basis. And then during our term they started to televise the City Council meetings as well. My life was like an open book and I knew that for me personally, I needed to deal with what was a little bit more and I also didn't believe that any party should be dependent on an individual. I think I was a really good city council member. I had the guest attendance record of any city council member during my two years, I was conscientious. I continued to engage with people and I'd like to think that I would have won, but I chose not to mainly personal reasons and some political reasons. My perspective at the time was that people didn't stay in Ann Arbor. It was people passing through, students passing through and a lot of my friends moving to the east coast or to the west coast. I wanted to see something different. I also wanted to get away from my family, who I later became very close to and all that, but I wanted to have more of a distance than 50 miles, I guess. The man who I came out with and I moved to Seattle in 1974. We thought about California, but that seemed like a bit much and Portland seemed too small, so we ended up in Seattle. So I arrived in Seattle on a rainy day of July of 1974. I've been back to Ann Arbor a few times. I even have dreams about Ann Arbor sometimes. I really love the city, I love the university and the arboretum. In my dreams I have actually moved back there at times, I don't think I would ever do that. My life is here, I had a long term relationship here in Seattle with a man for 26 years. We're not together anymore, but we're still the best of friends. And we raised two kids together along with their lesbian mom. So I am blessed that as a gay man from that era, I now have a 42 year old daughter and a 33 year old son. I feel very blessed to have had that opportunity. I've got two grandkids, and my daughter and her family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area about a year and a half ago so I visit frequently. The interesting thing too, for me anyway it's interesting, maybe not for anyone else, but my time on the City Council translated in my whole career in Seattle, that's been local government. I have worked for Seattle Public Schools, King County, The City of Seattle or Public Health Seattle, King County. So Probably most of my time it's been in public health, but also worked in a variety of the Mayor's office and human services department in the city and the county and had a long career in local government. I finally retired two years ago from public health. I delayed my retirement for about a year and a half because of COVID, and then we were able to do a lot during COVID, which I was very glad to do. I always prided myself in being able to get things done in government in spite of the bureaucracy. Which I think skills I've learned both at the University of Michigan on the student council as well as from my time certainly on the Ann Arbor city council. So I cherish my time in Ann Arbor. Think about it, I've been back there several times and it is a great place to be.
- [00:47:32] ELIZABETH: What do you think has changed the most and what stayed the same?
- [00:47:35] JERRY DEGRIECK: Well, I would say in terms of Ann Arbor or in terms of politics?
- [00:47:40] ELIZABETH: Ann Arbor as a whole, Ann Arbor politics, whatever you want to talk about.
- [00:47:44] JERRY DEGRIECK: Okay. Certainly the activism of the '60s and '70s was not the same in Ann Arbor going forward. I think politically and socially it is amazing to me the progress on LGBTQ rights. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that there would be gay marriage in this country, and so the change has been great. On the other hand, the backlash today in terms of trans folks is really disgusting and politically motivated the backlash. That's true in many realms politically today. Even though I still have been politically active off and on during my time, though raising kids and working prevented a lot of political action. But I really have seen a lot of change. On the other hand, the backlash now with Mega Republicans is really very harmful for this country and evil. I'm in spite of my time on the Ann Arbor City Council, I now work for, contribute to, and vote for Democrats because it's the only party that is fighting for democracy, I think in this country. I think it is important to defeat the extremism in the Republican party, which I feel is very anti democratic and racist. It's all about white grievance, tapping into the worst instincts in many of us. I was going to contrast the change in terms of the LGBTQ movement. In spite of today's backlash, the progress has been immense. When I look at racism in this country, I don't see the same kind of progress. I think that racism is still deeply instilled in America and it needs to be confronted and dealt with. And what they're doing in denying people the right to vote, in denying history, in many books on slavery, racism and LGBTQ issues is really something that needs to be fought.
- [00:50:23] HEIDI: As you were tracing your path from student politics through to being elected to the Human rights party. As a city council member, I was struck by the number of different groups you were mentioning and just the amount of coalitions you probably had to create and collaborations among people. Were a lot of the groups you were working with really coming out of that student movement of that era, or were you already working with a lot of crossing the town gown barrier and working with folks not affiliated with the university?
- [00:50:59] JERRY DEGRIECK: Well, I think it came from my involvement in anyway, in the groups that I was involved with, both anti war and many other issues stemmed from the university. But then doing support in the community you're trying to support things like strike support. It was like the new left politics of the day and a lot of it dominated from the university I think. But for the groups that I was involved in the coalitions, the other parties I didn't join but were aware of the International Socialists, they all stemmed from the university. But some of them perceived themselves as wanting to be part of the working class and not to be focused on just student issues. One thing I forgot to mention too is the relationship with the Michigan Daily. The Michigan Daily at the time was a very radical paper, I was on both the student council as well as the city council, but mainly when I was on the student council, I was very much aligned with friends and roommates who were on the Michigan Daily, including the guy who I first came out to, and not the guy who I mentioned who I first kissed, but a friend of mine who worked on the Michigan Daily and I was the first person I told I was gay. He was a roommate of mine at the time, which was not good because he couldn't deal with it at all. But anyway, that's a different story. But the point I was trying to make is that there was an alignment between The Michigan Daily and kind of the radical movement of the day that I had many wonderful memories of all night bridge games at the Michigan Daily Building.
- [00:52:55] ELIZABETH: I was also interested in hearing you talk a little bit about the work that you did in 1972 to establish Gay Pride Week.
- [00:53:04] JERRY DEGRIECK: Right, We did that as well in addition to the ordinance which we successfully passed. It was the first time that the city recognized gay pride. Definitely, I can't remember the details of it, only that we worked with the GLF, Jim Troy, who is a wonderful institution in Ann Arbor for many decades. Recently passed away a year or two ago, was I'm sure involved in as well. Nancy and I were just the vehicle on the council to be able to help push that through.
- [00:53:45] ELIZABETH: Did you know Jim Troy personally?
- [00:53:47] JERRY DEGRIECK: Yes. We were not super close, but sure I worked with him politically because he was definitely part of the GLF. And he also, as you I'm sure you know, started the first Gay Liberation Office within the University of Michigan and so on. He was also very much a part of our work on the ordinance for sexual minorities as well.
- [00:54:15] ELIZABETH: Can you talk a little bit more about Nancy, what was serving with her on the city council like. Can you share some details about [OVERLAPPING] ?
- [00:54:23] JERRY DEGRIECK: Well, we got to be pretty close.
- [00:54:27] JERRY DEGRIECK: I didn't know her real well. I was aware of her and we knew each other. But I wasn't really close to her until we were both running for city council and then we became, I think pretty close because we were in it together. We were even though we had the whole human rights party, we were their representatives on the council and the ones on the council while we were both there. She and I had slightly different. She was part of the chocolate almond caucus. We had slightly different perspective on things. I remember our first day on the council, there's a pledge of allegiance to the flag that was set at the council meetings. The party decided it was up to each of us to decide what we were going to do about that. She sat during it because she didn't believe in reinforcing what America was stood for. I stood for it, I did not say the pledge of allegiance, but I wanted to show respect for for people who did that was this one minor difference. We didn't have really too many, I can't remember any political disagreements we had on the council. We may have internally in terms of the internal human rights party discussions and that, but when it came to the council, I think we saw things pretty much eye to eye. I always wanted to support her and she was a key leader in the party and on the council along with me. I don't remember too many other details. I thought it was really interesting that we were both not aware of our personal journey and wanting to come out until we both had. In terms of relationships with other folks, with other people. I don't know if that answers your question. She was clearly a very outspoken leader. She had a lot going on personally, while we were on the city council. I was probably much more involved in the mundane things of city council. But when it came to the political issues that the party we really cared about, he was clearly the second Don on the council.
- [00:56:54] ELIZABETH: I have one more person I wanted to ask about if you have any memories of Kathy Kozachenko.
- [00:56:59] JERRY DEGRIECK: Sure.
- [00:57:00] ELIZABETH: You overlapped a little bit, and she was the first openly gay elected official?
- [00:57:04] JERRY DEGRIECK: Nancy and I were the first openly gay council members, but we had elected officials in the country, but we were not openly gay when we were elected, Kathy was openly gay. That was really cool that she ran. That was not a big part of her platform or her campaign rather. But she was openly lesbian when she ran. That was great that she was elected and one of the first, if not the first openly a person to be elected to any office in America. I'm so glad that happened through the human rights party at the time. Unfortunately, she was our sole representative because we did not win in the first award in 1974. She had to be on her own on the counsel, even though she had the support of the party. I'm sure Eden waned just like it did during the two years in Nancy. I was in touch with Kathy recently and she seems to be doing really well in her life. I think she lives in Pennsylvania and has been politically active off and on. One of the things that I didn't mention when I first came to Seattle, you have a plug for 1978. In the late '70s was one of the anti LGBTQ backlash times with anti Bryant and others. There were all these anti gay initiatives around the country and in Seattle had passed at that time, I think in ordinance upholding the rights of sexual minorities. Then two police officers got enough signatures on the ballot to put an issue on the ballot to repeal that ordinance. Even though initiatives around the country were losing, we ran a stellar campaign. I was part of the Seattle Committee against 13, which worked in conjunction with the Women against 13, and we were able to defeat that ordinance in a campaign that was as exhilarating for me as the 1972 campaign was when I was elected.
- [00:59:24] HEIDI: What do you think it was about Ann Arbor that made a third party successful at that time?
- [00:59:30] JERRY DEGRIECK: Well, I think it was probably not just Ann Arbor, but the times, the anti war movement, the rise of feminism, the rise of the LGBT, Greater Black Awareness, etc, was all part of that. I think University and Ann Arbor was a place where that all came together and it was allowed to grow and blossom, so to speak. That we could do the things that we did there because of the environment, the people who were there, but also because of the national movements of the day.
- [01:00:14] ELIZABETH: What are you most proud of?
- [01:00:17]JERRY DEGRIECK: From a personal standpoint I think I'm most proud of the growth that I experienced personally and politically in Ann Arbor, coming from a working class racist home and environment. Though the environment I grew up in was very middle upper class, my own family and extended family were more working class and overtly racist as was the community. Then being in Ann Arbor both, University of Michigan and on the Council Arbor Council, I really am proud of the personal and political growth that I experienced because of the university and because of my involvement in the political movements and the Ann Arbor City Council. I think in terms of concrete terms, what I'm most proud of in council, what we were able to achieve would probably be the ordinance around protecting the rights of sexual minorities in housing, employment, and public accommodations. I have some lifelong friends I've made there too, which is great. I'm thankful for my experiences in Ann Arbor that really impacted the rest of my life. I think made me open to not only for a career in local government, which was very diverse and challenging and interesting, but also personally being willing to and wanting to have kids in an era when LGBT folks weren't really having kids. I think it would help me set the stage for that wonderful blessing and opportunity too. I would also have to say that just forming the human rights party and using that as a vehicle to reach people and to make change and educate on our politics, I think was a huge accomplishment as well. I don't take personal responsibility or personal credit for all of that, of course, but it was a collective effort on the part of many people. But I think that was a pretty cool thing to have been a part of and what we were able to do and accomplish. Why we're in office and outside of the electoral arena as well.
- [01:02:53] ELIZABETH: AADL talks to is a production of the Ann Arbor District Library.
October 12, 2023
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