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ST. JOSEPH – Despite threats of attack and violence, the Blossom Day Parade in St. Joseph May 5 went off without a hitch, and the for the first time an openly LGBT group participated with a fabulous float of their own.
The YWCA Out and Affirmation LGBT Community Center in St. Joseph submitted a spectacular float that was constructed with hundreds of volunteer hours by members of the OAC. The float, which featured a waving American flag with a rainbow garnish, ws designed by OAC member Cullen Kemp, who worked at Disney Land for six years designing their extravaganzas and had worked on float projects for The Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, CA.
Some residents in this conservative area of southwestern Michigan objected to the OAC’s participation in the annual Blossom Parade. After the local newpaper, the Herald-Palladium, printed a story the weekend before the parade that featured the OAC’s float, the paper and the YWCA offices were inundated with negative and sometimes threatening letters and phone calls. Some callers threatened to attack the float with stones and rocks, while others promised to protest along the parade route.
Despite the threats and angst, the OAC float was a huge hit with the crowds, receiving enthusiastic applause and cheering the full length of the parade route.
“The thing that most surprised me was the support we saw prior to the parade from the other parade participants,” said Dawn Outwin, an OAC steering committee member and the driver of the tractor that pulled the float. “The [local high school beauty] queens and their courts that came up and wanted to have their pictures-*taken in front of the-*float, with-*Cullen and [his partner] Brad, people that would just walk by on their way to watch the parade congratulating us. It was-*amazing,” she said.-*
“I was really nervous of the unknown – not knowing if people would throw rocks, or boo or cheer,” said Kemp. “There was this staging area before the parade when all the floats were waiting to go on. Everyone was just sitting there quietly and my heart was just fluttering like a hummingbird. When they finally gave us the OK to move forward, the amount of cheering and applause sounded like a touchbdown at a footvball game, and I just started crying going down the parade route. As it continued, it was like people doing the wave – everyone was standing and cheering and applauding!”
The OAC float committee is already planning their float entry for 2008.
“I think that so many positives came out of this experience.-* We all met new people and were able to come together as a community to build this float,” said OAC steering committee member and volunteer Mary Barfoort. “We, the YWCA and the OAC, were able to open lines of communication with the people of Berrien County and further.-* There is now a greater awareness concerning the LGBT community in Berrien County.-* And I’m hoping that being in the parade becomes a tradition.”
“I look back on the parade with a great sense of pride,” said Outwin. “Pride in the team that conceptionalized, funded and built the float.-* Pride in the YWCA and Blossom Time for not wavering under pressure from the negative forces in the community, but mostly pride in our community itself, for coming out in support of our efforts and letting us know that we are a valued part of this area, welcomed and supported.”