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Wednesday August 20, 2014
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Martin Contreras and Keith Orr

 

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Contreras and Orr met at Ann Arbor's original gay bar, the Flame. "August 27, 1986," says Orr instantly. He was twenty-nine, and Contreras was twenty-seven. The attraction was immediate, the situation complicated. Contreras was closing out his relationship with his former partner, Mark Brigance. Brigance had the HIV virus, and, when he became seriously ill, Contreras took over his health care, arranging for friends to stay with him when he worked. Two years later, Brigance died at thirty-two.

"We are part of a generation that saw our own generation decimated," says Orr, whose memories of the traumatic times include hospital employees who insisted on wearing hazmat suits to treat AIDS patients. "You never want to forget."

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Orr and Contreras turned La Casita de Lupe into the Aut Bar in 1995 (the name is the phonetic spelling of "out"). It was the start of a more optimistic era. Life-saving antiviral "cocktails" were becoming available, and AIDS was no longer an automatic death sentence. The two wanted a bar more welcoming and community oriented than the Flame, whose closed shades and dark interior reinforced the shadowy existence most gays lived. (The Flame moved the same year and closed in 1998.)

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