A double rainbow appeared Sunday night over Detroit, with its beauty matching the radiant amount of love shared by those at this weekend’s Motor City Pride.
“Bless the heart of the City of Detroit,” said 72-year-old Brent Tenney. “This is the second year they have welcomed us. Other cities say no, but I don’t care if you’re black, white or purple everyone is welcome here.”
After 20 years of living in a Ferndale apartment, and a lifetime of never being in the closet, the flamboyantly gay senior has moved to downtown Detroit where he helps other seniors have access to resources. “There is so much to love in this city. Look at all this,” he said. “We didn’t have this growing up. I never thought I would see it in my lifetime.”
Tenney said he’s never come out. “I’ve always just been myself. I don’t have to explain myself to anybody.” Because he was never hidden, Tenney knows what it is like to experience the discrimination and hatred that events like Pride are an answer to.
“In the 70s and 80s we could go to Chicago or New York and feel comfortable, but that was it. Then all of a sudden in the 90s it just opened up in lots of places, and I didn’t have to leave Michigan.” Tenney was among the first to volunteer at Affirmations, working the Help Line and laying the foundation for acceptance, and access to information in the Detroit area. “I remember when we’d go into restaurants and people would refuse to serve us. Or if we were out in public people would call us names. Police wanted to arrest you for any reason they could think of. People would throw eggs at us or worse. It’s not all better, but these days, young people don’t seem to know what it’s like being treated like a second-class citizen.
Tenney spoke with Jerome Mann of Ann Arbor, who was collecting donations on behalf of Human Rights Campaign. “I donate to HRC twice a year,” Tenney said. “They’re the best thing we’ve got going for us in Washington. I give to local organizations too. We need to teach people even though it’s hard if you care about a cause you need to give.”
Mann said collecting donations is hard, but important work. “We’re facing groups like the American Family Association that are spending millions of dollars trying to take away our rights. The only way we counter that is if people are willing to contribute.”
Dozens of groups and gay friendly businesses had booths at the giant annual event. Motor City Pride had its origins in a 1986 Pride Parade in Detroit. Over the years, it’s had locations in Royal Oak and Ferndale, but in 2011 – and again this year – Motor City Pride has found its home in Hart Plaza.
As gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender individuals, and allies enjoyed three stages of entertainment, an abundance of resources and shopping, and plenty of festival food, couples like Kara from Clarkston and Alicia from Shelby Township found plenty of places to relax and enjoy both nature and community. The teens, too shy to share their last names, found bliss in being able to hold each other publically and sharing a waterfront kiss. “It’s amazing,” Kara said. “I’ve never seen so many people together like this before. I am just really, really happy.”
“Me too,” Alicia said before giving her sweetie another kiss.
Another couple made the rounds in Hart Plaza, among friends for their first Pride ever. “We’ve been engaged over a year,” Nikki Bies of New Baltimore of her partner Nikki Wilkinson of Wayne. “We are waiting until 2015 and if it’s not legal to get married in Michigan we will go elsewhere for the certificate and have our ceremony here.”
Others found their bliss by showing off their dance moves.
Drag shows rocked one stage, with MTFs and FTMs strutting their stuff and collecting dollar bills from the people packed into the riverfront stage. Admirers filled the stone levels of seating while others sat above on all sides of the stage cheering on performers like Mary Jane and Gage Gatlin from Stilettos. After just 15 months of training as a performer, Mary Jane wowed the crowd with her Lady Gaga like entrance. Then kept them hooting and hollering with sexy moves and poses, endlessly long eyelashes, and her hot pink body suit. Following Mary Jane, Gatlin came onstage with his black western shirt, ample belt buckle and a cowboy hat that matched the color of his perfectly-trimmed goatee, singing “I may be a real bad boy, but baby I’m a real good man.”
Another stage had a J’Sette dance competition where teams danced off to win a gigantic trophy. The teams of three or more dancers were judged based on uniformity, march and creativity as they stepped, flipped, kicked, shimmied, strutted, stomped, split and moved in sync as they faced off against an opposing team. Here, surrounded by thousands of cheering fans, their months of hard work, practice and teamwork came together. The youth, many from places like Ruth Ellis Center and Affirmations, not only moved the crowd with the music, but by showing that young people are indeed capable of working together and accomplishing things when given the opportunities to do it.
Beyond the entertainment and fun, Motor City Pride had a message of unity. Throughout the weekend, a legion of volunteers with neon pink shirts and clipboards collected signatures for the BTL Voter Education Project, a plan to unite voters across the state and have a more educated electorate.
Judy Lewis led the signature gathering, “We had about 50 volunteers each day – and they were amazing,” she said. “We probably got over 2,500 signatures, and everyone seemed very interested in finding out more about the election, the candidates and issues, and their record on LGBT issues.
“In addition to the volunteers we had from BTL, the Unity partners – Equality Michigan, Affirmations, ACLU, Ruth Ellis Center, KICK and Michigan Roundtable – were also collecting signatures at their tables – so there was a good deal of educating going on.”
Dave Wait of Equality Michigan chairs Motor City Pride, which he said is essentially a break-even event for the nonprofit organization. Equality Michigan fights for human rights on many levels, including providing victim services and working to create change in Lansing. “The festival paid for itself and we look at it as a way to bring the community together. Any extra money we bring, it would go towards keeping Equality Michigan moving forward,” he said. The revenue totals are not yet in, but Wait is excited to report that attendance was on par with what it was last year at about 44,000.
“The diversity we had, the entertainment, it was all very packed. I’m pleased to see how many people came together around the fountain and around the river deck and talked,” Wait said. “The other neat thing was after we ended the festival, about 300 people hung out over an hour after it closed and just stood around talking out on the sidewalk. Seeing how it builds up the community like that is one of the best things about Motor City Pride.”