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Celebrating a Century of LGBTQ Progress



Walking down the streets of Saugatuck and the neighboring village, Douglas, you immediately feel a sense of warmth and welcome. Pride flags flap in the breeze, a bright symbol of acceptance. Couples of any orientation can walk hand-in-hand along the sandy white beaches. The Art Coast has a long legacy of inclusivity—all thanks to the brave people who fought for LGBTQ rights over the last century.

Preserving the Legacy

To learn more about the area’s rich LGBTQ history, check out “Century of Progress: A Timeline of Saugatuck-Douglas LGBTQ History” at the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center. The exhibit is a culmination of years of research by local historians and volunteers from Michigan Humanities, including oral history interviews of community members. The team also collected numerous artifacts and photographs from LGBTQ landmarks in the area.

Opened in 2021, this exhibit was inspired by two key events: the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in June of 2019 and the passing of local gay trailblazer Carl Jennings in February 2019. Carl and his husband, Larry Gammons, founded The Douglas Dunes resort, which brought national attention to Saugatuck/Douglas in the 1980s and 1990s. Carl’s death emphasized the importance of remembering LGBTQ philanthropists and community leaders in the area. 


Exploring the Past

In the 1950s, Saugatuck/Douglas gained recognition as a destination for people in the LGBTQ community. The Elms Hotel was among the first to rent rooms to male couples. Many gay-friendly hotels on Saugatuck’s vibrant Butler Street followed suit. The town wasn’t afraid of a little civil defiance, either. Michigan state liquor laws made it illegal to serve alcohol to homosexuals in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but local bars, including West Michigan’s first gay bar, The Blue Tempo, refused to adhere to the statute. 

In the not-so-distant past, locals Glenna DeJong and Marsha Caspar were the first couple to be married in the area after April Deboer and Jane Rouse won their 2015 court case in Michigan. With help from the ACLU, they sued then-Governor Synder and won their case to recognize over 300 same-sex marriages. Deboer and Rouse continued to fight for their marriage through numerous bans and appeals until the Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of gay marriage. 

Celebrating the Future

Today, Saugatuck/Douglas is home to one of the largest LGBTQ resorts in the country, The Dunes Resort. Here, world-renowned DJs and cabaret performers entertain thousands of visitors each year. The community is also home to many LGBTQ-owned businesses, restaurants, bars, and hotels and has received numerous accolades as a must-visit, LGBTQ-friendly destination from travel publications such as Thrillist and Vacationer.  

As Saugatuck/Douglas continues flourishing as a haven for everyone, the Saugatuck-Douglas History Museum hopes more people will share their stories. They aim to build an inclusive historical archive that reflects the community's diversity and highlights the importance of fighting for LGBTQ rights. To do this, they need to collect more artifacts, personal papers, and photographs documenting the lives of LGBTQ people in Michigan. You can be part of the story, too, when you plan your next trip to the Art Coast.

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