by Jessica Carreras
Proposed budget cuts in the city of Detroit could mean big problems for next month’s Hotter Than July week of black gay Pride festivities, which are held mainly in the city’s Palmer Park – one of a whopping 140 parks set to close on July 1.
HTJ, hosted annually by the Black Pride Society, is set to take place July 17-24 and include a Ruth Ellis Pride March, reception, film festival, LGBT boat cruise, candlelight vigil, workshops, brunch and the festival, which has brought thousands of LGBT Detroiters and beyond to the city.
HTJ has taken place in Palmer Park since its inaugural event in 1996.
But disagreements between Mayor Dave Bing and the Detroit City Council have left both parties struggling to figure out how to accommodate $31.8 million in budget cuts ordered by the council.
Bing says the cuts could mean 100 police and fire layoffs, a 50 percent loss of senior services and programs, plus the closure of the outdoor pools at Rouge and Palmer Park, three recreation centers and the aforementioned parks. “We thought we should have gained an opportunity to present our budget and manage through it,” Bing told the Detroit News. “But now with another $31 million cut, it’s pretty impossible and you’re going to end up making stupid decisions because they want it up front.”
City Council President Charles Pugh has insisted that the group will find a way to compromise while still whittling down the budget. And he’s made a promise to Hotter Than July President Robert Clarke that he will propose an amendment that will keep Palmer Park open – at least long enough for this year’s festival.
“I have a commitment from Charles Pugh that he will be doing a budget amendment,” Clarke said. “He’s supposed to make an announcement by Friday (June 25) notifying the city that Palmer Park and other parks will not be closing.”
Pugh had been in Washington, D.C., this week, visiting the White House as one of the invitees for the administration’s Pride Month reception, which was held on June 22. As of press time, Pugh was expected to be back in Detroit by Wednesday.
While the Detroit City Council and Mayor Bing grapple with how to make cuts to their already sliced $1.1 million budget while retaining services, Clarke and his team are scrambling to find an alternative to Palmer Park. He explained that the Black Pride Society only found out about the possible closures on June 16, while HTJ planning had already been going on for months. Moving the festival was never a factor they had to consider.
If Pugh’s push to keep the park open is unsuccessful, the Ruth Ellis Pride March and Candlelight Vigil – two out of three of the week’s events set to happen in the park – are set to be canceled. A tree had been planted years ago as part of HTJ, providing the setting for the vigil each year afterward.
The festival will likely be moved, but the new location is still undecided. “There’s very few parks left,” Clarke said. “Belle Isle remains open, but they have something booked on the 24th, so we’re thinking of other parks that we could possibly go to. Other than going to a suburban park, there really is no other city park that is available at this late of a time.”
Chene Park, located on the Detroit Riverfront, is their best option, but will tack another $28,000 onto HTJ’s production costs – an amount that’s not within their budget. As such, the group is looking for donations and additional sponsors, and is toying with the idea of charging admission fees to come to the festival. The HTJ festival has always been free to attend.
More than just anxious over the possible loss of Hotter Than July’s historic home, Clarke admitted that it’s hard not to feel slighted by the city, which has traditionally supported the week of black gay Pride. Last year, both Pugh and Bing – then up for election – attended the festival, as well as several other candidates for city council. This year, those same politicians are close to making cuts that would end the festival’s legacy in Palmer Park.
And the city knew how hurtful the cut would be, showcased by the fact that openly gay Deputy Director of General Services Brad Dick, who was appointed LGBT liaison in the city under Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, personally called the Black Pride Society’s Hank Millbourne to deliver the bad news.
Clarke thinks it may be a move to force Pugh to stick up for the LGBT community on his own. “They knew what Hotter Than July was and what it means. It’s always been there in Palmer Park,” he contended. “It seems like it’s a way to start controversy in order to make Charles have to stick up for us in a way to try to discredit him to voters. He said before that the bigotry did not come up in his election. They voted him in based off of his knowledge of the city. But if people try to take it down to a bigot’s level, then this would certainly be the key to doing that.”