As a doctoral student in the History Department of Binghamton University, Rochella (Roey) Thorpe researched lesbian life in Detroit, 1947-1975. She looked at the quite separate environments of African-American and white lesbians created in the Post War era. Within racial groups, lesbians mostly associated with women of similar economic backgrounds. Rather than finding one homogenous lesbian community, Thorpe found many different lesbian communities, and looked at the ways these communities and their survival strategies changed over time.
Her study is based in Detroit, a city that saw great urban growth and racial tension prior to and during World War II. Women's work in Detroit's wartime factories represented significant changes for both white and African-American women. After World War II, the fear of spreading communism in the automobile unions made Detroit the site of the 1951 House UnAmerican Activities Committee investigations. Detroit was a Midwest center for the civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements of the 1960s and the emergence of the gay liberation movement in the 1970s. In 1970, Detroit women formed a chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, and the radical newspaper THE DETROIT GAY LIBERATOR began publishing.
Thorpe's study includes substantial interviews with lesbians who lived in Detroit over this time period. Thorpe was the first openly lesbian candidate to be elected to the City of Ithaca (N.Y.) Common Council. The 5th Ward elected her as Alderwoman for a term from 1994 through 1997.