ANN ARBOR – The 15th annual OutFest took place Saturday, Sept. 19 in Ann Arbor. The event, a fundraiser for the Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project, took on a more intimate feel this year as the entire evening took place in Braun Court, the courtyard shared by WRAP, autBar, Common Language Bookstore and Trillium Real Estate. The downsizing was the result of the economic downturn and dwindling attendance for the event, which in recent years has been plagued by poor weather.
Ironically, the event, a celebration of National Coming Out, which is Oct. 11, is actually scheduled nearly a month earlier out of weather concerns. But as any Michgander knows, the calendar has little to do with the temperature in these parts. This year, weather conditions were mild and clear and the crowd sat outside listening to live music well into the night.
“We’re here for WRAP,” said Keith Orr, the evening’s master of ceremonies and the co-owner of autBar and Common Language with his partner, Martin Contreras. “We’re also here to have a really good time.”
Several speakers started out the evening and took to the stage to talk about coming out – past and future.
The Rev. Gail Geisenhainer of the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor, began her remarks on a comedic note.
“I’ve been asked to talk about coming out,” she said. “The CliffNotes version is, ‘Yes. Early, often and over and over again.’ Now go back to your meal.”
Dave Garcia, the new director of the Kalamazoo Gay Lesbian Resource Center, looked back to the birth of the modern gay rights movement.
“Forty years ago this past June, the gay community fought back against abuse and oppression,” he said. “It was a message that has evolved into a movement, and I’m here today – we’re all here today – in no small part as a result of that effort at the Stonewall Inn.”
For his part, Gabe Javier of the University of Michigan’s Spectrum Center spoke about the movement’s future, focusing on the upcoming march on Washington, D.C. and urging folks from Michigan to attend.
“We are only asking for one thing: everything,” Javier said. “I want it all. Everything. And I want it not only for me, but for everyone.”
“It was a great evening,” commented Barry MacDougall, president of WRAP’s board of directors, after the event. “The weather was perfect. We had really great speakers and each one of them brought to the event sort of a different perspective and reminded us of the importance of Coming Out Day; and to keep our focus on not only what we’ve accomplished but where we still need to continue to focus our energy.”
But for some time, WRAP’s attention has been focused on OutFest and how to revamp the event to make it more economically sound. In 2007, there was even talk of discontinuing the celebration. That discussion has apparently abated for the moment.
“I think we’ll always continue to have an OutFest,” MacDougall said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to come together.”
However, while the plan is for the event to continue, MacDougall said WRAP will no longer look to the event, which is very labor-intensive and dependent on elusive good September weather conditions, to be it’s main fundraising effort of the year. Instead, WRAP is planning a large dinner event for December.
“So while we’ll continue to do OutFest, we’ll continue to rethink how we do it,” he said.
While crowd estimates for this year were difficult to come up with – both the restaurant and the bookstore were open all night and outdoor tables changed hands all evening – MacDougall said the courtyard remained packed throughout. He estimated that the event raised nearly $2,500.
“OutFest is a great event, but it’s not the best model for fundraising,” he said. “You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket.”
Correction: Last week’s article previewing OutFest said that one year’s event raised $2,200. The actual amount was $22,000.