Mike Flores continues to build the LGBTQ community at Affirmations 

The Heart

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Noah Elliott Morrison

When Metro Times last spoke to Mike Flores, the year was 2001 and the then-20-year-old had just come out as gay. A native of Houston, Texas, the first-generation Latino-American (his mother is from Nicaragua, his father from El Salvador) moved to Michigan to study business at University of Detroit Mercy. Despite being a young gay man at a Catholic school, Flores found an accepting and tolerant community in Detroit, and soon became the Latino outreach coordinator for La Comunidad, a support group and HIV education and prevention initiative for gay Latin men. "It was actually word of mouth, 'Hey there is a new gay Latin group,' and I had never heard of such a thing," Flores told MT of finding La Comunidad. "I was like, 'Wow, that's a paradox.'"

In many ways, a lot has changed since then: Flores is no longer the skrawny young man photographed in MT all those years ago, and his career in business has taken him far from Detroit. But now, Flores has found his way back to metro Detroit — where he's once again working on behalf of LGBTQ communities.

"I've always loved Michigan," Flores says. "I was sad when I had to leave. I left because I had to, because there were no jobs here. But I always knew that I was going to come back, so when the right opportunity arose I took it and I came back."

After college, Flores landed a job in Detroit's auto industry. But once the economic crash of 2007 hit, Flores was out of work, though he was able to parlay his career into the aerospace field by relocating to the East Coast. However, he says his heart was always with Michigan, and Detroit's post-bankruptcy turnaround inspired him to return.

Not only was Flores' heart still with Michigan, but it was also with helping LGBTQ communities. Flores joined Ferndale's Affirmations center on a volunteer basis in 2016, and joined the board the next year. Once again, things happened quickly: The next year, the president of the board stepped down, and in May of this year Flores was officially installed as the replacement.

It's a far cry from 2001, when the thought of a gay Latino seemed like an impossibility to the young Flores. Now, Affirmations has a lot of Latin power: Its executive director, Lilianna Reyes, is the first transgender Latina woman to head a nonprofit in Michigan.

These days, Flores works in the auto industry by day, and serves on Affirmations' board on a volunteer basis. "It's a lot of work," he admits. "But I'm very passionate about what Affirmations does across the whole community, across all the letters of the alphabet and all the colors of the rainbow. That's why sometimes board members and staff members see emails coming in at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning."

Now, Flores, Reyes, and the rest of the staff are tasked with evolving Affirmations in the 21st century. When it first started in 1989, the organization was a phone support hotline for the gay community; when it established its current-day location in 2007, the goal was simply to provide a safe space for people to meet. Now, Affirmations must find other ways to connect with the community, and grapple with what "community" means in a world that has gone digital. To that end, the organization is employing technology to reach a tech-savvy younger generation — for example, streaming its community meetings via FaceTime for those unable to physically attend.

Yet the more things change, the more some things remain the same. Even though Americans are far more accepting of gay rights now than they were 20 years ago, many fear Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump's far-right Supreme Court justice nominee, will rule against gay-rights issues. "I mean, how vulnerable are these rights that we've been able to accomplish over the past 10 years?" Flores asks.

That's why Flores sees the need for Affirmations. After the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Affirmations hosted a solidarity gathering. "When something does happen, everyone comes to Affirmations, because we really are a safe space," he says. "This truly is a community center, and it's the heart of the LGBT community in the metro region."

From our 2018 People Issue.

Next: The Healer.

Previous: The Showstopper.

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