Southfield (CW50) – At the age of 16, Ruth Ellis came out to her parents as gay, with her family being accepting of who she was. A choice that was not commonly made by members of the LGBT community in the 1910s. While it wasn’t common, there were still many members of the community fighting for equality during the era. Ruth Ellis herself was one of the most vocal activists of her generation and would live to the age of 101.

Detroit-native and LGBTQ Activist Ruth Ellis (Courtesy of the Ruth Ellis Center)

Named in honor of the Detroit icon, the Ruth Ellis Center was founded in 1999 to create a supportive environment and community with LGBTQ+ young people. Ruth Ellis Center (REC) has established a national reputation for quality and innovation in providing trauma-informed services for lesbian, gay, bi-attractional, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ+) youth, and young adults, with an emphasis on young people of color, experiencing homelessness, involved in the child welfare system, and/or experiencing barriers to health and wellbeing. 

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In 2020, the Ruth Ellis Center broke ground on a 43-unit housing development project. Thirty-four of the units will be mostly cost-covered, including resident expenses; eight units will be offered at low-cost, and the final unit will be home to a live-in peer support specialist. The project will not just create a place to sleep, but a resource-filled space, including a health and wellness center, two case managers, a behavioral health specialist, primary care doctors, and mental health counseling. The target demographic for the building is LGBT young-adults from 18 to 25 years of age, with an emphasis on trans women-of-color.

Community Connect Host Jackie Paige, with Jerry Peterson, Executive Director of the Ruth Ellis Center

Jerry Peterson, Executive Director of the Ruth Ellis Center, joins Jackie Paige on Community Connect to discuss the origins of the Ruth Ellis Center, its hopes for expanding its reach in the near future, and the need to find help for young members of the LGBTQ community.

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Peterson explains how although there have been improvements over the many decades since Ruth Ellis started her activism, LGBTQ people of color have seen little to no changes in how they are treated, served, or seen in society.

“There are many things that have changed in out culture… that make things better for mainstream people and frankly white middle, upper-middle class folks. But when it comes to black and brown LGBTQ young people living in poverty, almost nothing has changed.”

The Ruth Ellis Center holds five key programs, which include the Health and Wellness Center, the Drop-In Center, Ruth’s House, Kofi House, and the Ruth Ellis Institute. For more information on these programs, go to RuthEllisCenter.org

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