By Tara Cavanaugh
Holden Michael Alee, 21, is a junior studying hospitality and tourism management at Grand Valley State University. He’s also a staff member at Equality Michigan. When he’s not helping organize this year’s Motor City Pride, he volunteers at GVSU’s LGBT Resource Center.
How are you helping with Motor City Pride this year?
I am the vendor coordinator. I’m in charge of getting all of our vendor applications, making sure they’re all set to go and then laying out where they will be in Hart Plaza, making sure that the communication is there between the organization and vendors.
As of last Monday we confirmed 90 vendors. Which is about on par with what we had last year in Ferndale. There’s still space, and we’re still expecting applications. Last year we topped out with 107 vendors, and we’re expecting about the same number. People have been largely receptive to the move, and very happy.
Are you excited for the move to Detroit’s Hart Plaza? What do you say about the controversy it’s caused?
I thought that it was a brilliant idea. It makes more sense, when you say “Motor City Pride,” for it to actually be in the Motor City and not in the suburbs. So we’re very excited for that. I think it allows for such an expansion of the event, too. I know when we were organizing vendors last year, we were pretty tightly packed. And we probably could have used another block of 9 Mile, just for vendors, to get everybody placed. There wasn’t much room to move. So that’s one of the great things about moving to Hart Plaza.
I don’t want to speak for the Pride Committee necessarily because I was not a part of that, but I think they anticipated that not everybody would hop on board right away. I have personally viewed it as being a transition year. This is the year we are moving from where it’s been for a number of years into a new setting with two days, multiple stages, that sort of thing. I anticipate after this year we will see what a success this event can be. But I think some people need to see the event go off and be a success before they hop on board and commit to the change.
What do you do for the LGBT Resource Center at Grand Valley?
I’m on their Speakers Bureau. We receive calls throughout the semester from professors who would like us to come in and speak to their classes. We go into a really diverse number of classrooms – anything from education to biology and human sexuality courses. We basically speak about the coming out process, our own experiences coming out as L, G, B or T and then offer resources or information specific to the course.
I’m also a part of a new program at the center called the Pipeline Leadership Academy, which helps train people to be active in social justice, and Change U., which connects students and faculty with community members to work on social justice issues together.
A group of us from the center are talking with administration and faculty and putting into place a plan of what gender-neutral housing would look like. We’re seeing a great response from most of the administration on campus. We’re really hopeful to have that in place for the fall. Fingers crossed.
What kind of reaction do you get from students when you speak in their classes about LGBT issues?
When I go into the classroom I have two things I focus on to break the ice. The first thing is my story. It helps if you can kind of humanize that aspect of coming out and what it’s like to know you’re different or realize you’re gay or questioning or transgender. The other thing I use is humor. I really try to get them to laugh. I try and keep it light. I don’t want it to be this heavy thing.
The reaction that I’ve gotten is tremendously positive. I’ve definitely seen students who were distant and disconnected but I have not had anybody come up and say anything to me personally, like “I don’t believe in your lifestyle” or any of the things that you’d expect to hear when putting yourself out there like that.
There have been people who didn’t realize that even certain things that they say, like “no homo,” are offensive. A lot of times when I speak to people who are in the education program, they come up to me and say, “I never thought about what would happen if a student came out to me.” It’s something that’s definitely real, that a teacher will experience at some point.
Next year you’ll be a senior. What are your career goals?
I first thought I’d go into hotel management – and I realized that was just not for me. So I switched to event planning, thinking I’d plan million-dollar weddings, be on the Women’s Entertainment Network and have my own show. (Laughs) And now after becoming so involved in the LGBT community and recognizing the amount of things that are going on in the world that people are overlooking or ignoring, I think I really want to go into event planning for nonprofits. Which works out great with Equality Michigan. I realized I could work here every day and be completely happy with myself and with my job.