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By Jessica Carreras
Justin and Michael Matthews know a thing or two about pride. They fought adversity and started the first ever gay-owned fireworks company, Defying Gravity Fireworks. And now they’re putting that pride in the air with their show at Michigan Pride this Saturday, June 28, at the end of the festival.
“For the first time, we will have our very own fireworks show,” the couple says, referring to the fact that no Michigan pride event has ever had fireworks. The Matthews hope for a big showing for their event, which will help to raise funds for the Gay American Heroes Foundation. One lucky raffle winner will even get to light the first fuse.
“Come out with us,” they urge Pride-goers, “and let’s make history together.”
In an e-mail interview with the couple, Between The Lines got the inside scoop on their upcoming show, their devotion to charity causes and what it’s like to fight for equality in a historically anti-gay industry.
You are the only gay-owned fireworks company. How has that helped or hindered your business?
The fireworks industry is known for being a very “straight” organization. I am sure that there are people that work in the fireworks industry that are gay, but we are the first gay-owned company. As a matter of fact, as we were taking our first training class, Michael was called a ‘faggot’ and that the teacher would never have a ‘Tinkerbell’ on his crew. From that time on, everyone knew us as brothers.
It was not until the Lansing show came about that we ‘came out’ to the fireworks industry. Surprisingly, everyone we came across was very open and accepting of it, without any indication of discomfort. Our business was not brought about to make money per se. The idea behind our company is to do shows for charities. We don’t feel that it has helped or hindered it, but we feel that we have started something that we could bring to the gay community that up until now they didn’t have.
What are your feelings about the upcoming pride show you’re putting on? Scared? Excited? Both?
This has not been an easy show to get off the ground. There have been several obstacles to overcome and people fighting this show from happening every step of the way. We are nervous that some of the people that are against the show might try to stop it the day of the show. But we are extremely excited to put on this show due to the fact that we have had many challenges and had to customize this show to fit the requirements of the fire marshal. The things we have designed and made specifically for this show are very exciting from both a fireworks standpoint and a Pride standpoint. There have been many a sleepless night preparing and making this show particular for the Pride and their 20th anniversary. It is always something when you are able to do something spectacular and be counted in a small group of people for it, and to have that event take place for something you strongly believe in, it transcends excited and becomes pride.
What can people expect at that show?
There is only one person besides our crew that knows exactly what we have put together. We are keeping this top secret because we want to create not only the ‘wow’ factor, but we want to surprise them with something that no one has ever seen in a fireworks show before. What we have done is created two shows in one. The first show is a traditional Defying Gravity Fireworks show. The reason that we say a traditional Defying Gravity show is we do things a little differently than traditional shows. Not only do we have fireworks in the air, we have many ground effects too. The second show will be totally different. This show is choreographed to music, and is the show that will have all the special effects in it. As part of the finale, we have custom made a 6-foot-by-10-foot trailer that will set off 368 shells all at once. Traditionally, that alone is double the amount of fireworks that goes off in a finale. Yet that is not even the whole finale. There is so much more.
Why choose the Gay American Heroes organization to donate to? Is there a personal connection?
That is not the sole organization right now, but there is a personal connection to the company. Justin and Michael have always felt very strongly about the Matthew Shepard foundation as well as the story behind his brutal beating and subsequent death. Justin, as well, personally witnessed one of his friends being gay bashed by (a) beating to the head with a baseball bat. We just feel that it is a little known organization that really stands for something strong, and anything we can do to help to promote what they stand for, we will do.
What does a fireworks show say about LGBT pride?
Again, this show is not your run of the mill show. It has been specifically structured for this Pride event. If you break down what a Pride event is about, it is about celebrating who we are, what we have accomplished, and what we are fighting to become. Now, on their 20th anniversary, the LGBT has its own fireworks company. Something to celebrate, something we have accomplished, and it was truly a fight to get to that point. A fireworks show is something that, other than in New York City, not usually associated with a Pride event. However, with its 20th year celebration, us being the first gay-owned fireworks company, and the convergence of the two, we have created something truly memorable, groundbreaking and historical for any Pride in Michigan, let alone the country.