Dave Garcia celebrated as Pride Month Game Changers honoree

Affirmations LGBTQ+ Community Center executive director honored for his work to promote inclusion and equality in the community

June 2nd, 2022

Dave Garcia just wants to make a difference.

In 2000, Garcia was fired as the community services coordinator in Swartz Creek, Mich., for trying to start a Gay Straight Alliance in Michigan public schools. His desire to support LGBTQ+ youth grew even stronger, inspiring Garcia to take a stand.

“I was angry,” Garcia said. “So I walked from the front doors of the high school to Lansing to draw attention to the violence against LGBTQ+ youth in our schools in the state of Michigan.”

More than two decades have passed since Garcia’s symbolic 55-mile trek, but his commitment to advancing the safety and equality of LGBTQ+ people hasn’t wavered.

As part of Pride Month, Garcia is being celebrated for the Detroit Red Wings’ and Detroit Tigers’ Game Changers series, presented by Comerica Bank, for his extraordinary work of ensuring equality and inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community.

“We’re honored to continue our year-round celebration of impactful Game Changers during Pride Month, kicking off with Dave Garcia,” said Kevin Brown, director of community impact for Ilitch Sports + Entertainment. “Dave and his team at Affirmations LGBTQ+ Community Center continue to raise the bar in providing vital resources and support for metro Detroiters, offering a welcoming space for all to learn, grow, and socialize.”

After working for the University of Michigan and the Kalamazoo LGBTQ+ Center, Garcia’s journey led him to Affirmations LGBTQ+ Community Center, a Ferndale-based non-profit organization that provides hundreds of groups and activities to establish a welcoming space where people of all sexual orientations can find support, socialize and feel safe.

Serving as the center’s executive director from 2011-14, he oversaw initiatives that raised awareness of political issues facing the LGBTQ+ community. Citing a goal to take on new challenges, Garcia left Affirmations and spent five years in California working for the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Garcia said he was planning to stay on the West Coast until an unforeseen problem prompted a return to the Midwest.

“Affirmations got into some financial trouble while I was gone,” Garcia said. “This was my home, and I realized Affirmations was too important. I also didn’t know if there was enough time to save Affirmations, so I came back.”

He re-assumed his role as the Center’s executive director in March 2019 and has been part of its revival ever since.

“When I came back here three years ago, Affirmations had three employees,” Garcia said. “Now, we’re almost to 20 employees and doing very well financially. I needed to come home because it’s my home and Affirmations was too important to Michigan to fail.”

As a hub for southeast Michigan LGBTQ+ communities since 1989, Affirmations organizes several support and discussion groups intended to provide guests with support around a particular issue or identity.

“I’ve learned that you can’t assume,” Garcia said. “Just because it’s a small town in Middle America doesn’t mean there are not pro-LGBTQ+ people. I have found great allies in the heart of our country and in small towns.”

Garcia added this realization has helped him see growth in the LGBTQ+ community and within Affirmations.

“The reality is LGBTQ+ people exist everywhere,” Garcia said. “They’re in every family, in every race and in every religion. I think that’s probably why we’ve seen such progress.”

Because of its ability to appeal to all sectors of the community, Affirmations has evolved into not only the largest LGBTQ+ organization in Michigan, but one of the largest in the United States.

“Affirmations doesn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” Garcia said. “We serve the straight community quite often as well. It is a place where people can get support but have fun.”

Affirmations organizes special events like Pride Prom, a social justice-focused book club and a youth leadership program open to participants ages 12-22 regardless of sexual orientation or background.

According to Garcia, Affirmations’ year-round events and programs are invaluable.

“It’s easy for youth around the state, even around the country since many of our groups are also offered remotely, to join and get to know other young people like themselves,” Garcia said. “It’s important to come out but not all youth are safe to do so because they’re not all in a safe environment.”

Garcia said Affirmations often helps displaced LGBTQ+ children who have nowhere to go.

“I can’t tell you how many young people come to Affirmations because they’ve just been kicked out of their homes,” Garcia said. “We try to find shelter, food and clothes for them. That still happens today in 2022.”

As a former teacher, Garcia understands how difficult it might be for LGBTQ+ youth to navigate a society where they feel they may not fit in. So in addition to youth-focused groups, Affirmations provides counseling services, wellness programs and inclusion training sessions.

“The suicide rates in this country in young LGBTQ+ kids, especially trans, is astronomically higher than in the straight community,” Garcia said. “I try every day to remind young people that is exactly what our enemies want. They want to take you off the playing field so you can’t fight anymore. We need young people to continue to fight for progress, fairness and equality.”

Garcia is proud of Affirmations’ progress but knows more work must be done to help ensure equality for the LGBTQ+ community.

“I would challenge anyone who considers themselves an LGBTQ+ ally in our community to do more,” Garcia said. “We need you now.”

To learn more about Affirmations and how to support its initiatives, visit GoAffirmations.org.