By Crystal Proxmire
The Director of Security for Ferndale Pride is a 30-year-old former farm boy who came to “Faggoty Ferndale” at 18 so he could freely be himself. Now, a dozen years since graduation, he looks at how things have changed, and how working on Motor City Pride and Ferndale Pride has helped him grow.
1) Where did you grow up and why did you move to Ferndale?
I grew up in Armada, Michigan. It’s a fairly small farming community located about 40 miles north of Detroit. I grew up on a 23 acre farm. We raised chickens and rabbits when I was younger and then eventually leased the land out to be farmed by area farmers. In 2001, when I was 18 years old and a senior in high school, I had finally accepted that I was gay and began to look around on the Internet for others like me.
I met some people on websites like gay.com and planetout.com and also came across Triangle Foundation’s website. 2001 was the first year that Triangle had taken over Pride. Back then it was known as Metro Detroit Gay & Lesbian PrideFest.It was the first year that Triangle produced the event and brought it downtown Ferndale.
I had recently become familiar with Ferndale when I was doing my Emergency Medical Technician clinical rotations. I was riding with a crew and as we were driving down Woodward to a hospital in Detroit, my partners on the rig told me we were passing through “Faggotty Ferndale”.
I soon would find myself exploring places like Xhedos Coffeeshop. I found myself falling in love with Ferndale. When I volunteered for security at PrideFest that year, I met amazing people at Triangle like Kevin McAlpine, Fred Huebener, Sean Kosofsky, and Jeff Montgomery. Not to mention the late Heather McAllister. I live in Royal Oak now, but I’m still active in Ferndale events.
2) What have you learned from the long-time activists that you get to work with?
Wow. I’ve learned so much and have been so very, very fortunate to work with all of the great men and women in our community. I learned how to organize a protest from the late Heather MacAllister at Triangle Foundation. I remember the first protest I was part of was against a church in Wayne that was hosting an anti-gay “Hell House”. It was freezing outside, but we strapped on our angel wings and hoisted our signs and picketed.
Being able to work alongside Jeff Montgomery and especially Sean Kosofsky was life changing. I remember tagging along with Sean when he would do speaking engagements at various schools and colleges throughout Michigan. I’ve always been in awe at the ease in which he can just command an audience.
Meeting other wonderful people back in the early 2000’s like Dave Garcia and hearing his story of discrimination by the Swartz Creek School District. The opportunity to meet Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s mother, was inspiring. I have learned how to successfully organize events and demonstrations from some of the greats. I am very lucky to get to work with Craig Covey, Julia Music, Greg Pawlica and Monica Mills on events throughout the year. I’m sure there are so many others that I have been fortunate to work with throughout the years that I’m forgetting to list here, but the memories are there and it’s helped to shape who I am today.
3) Why did you decide to get involved in Ferndale Pride and what do you like about it?
One of my favorite Margaret Mead quotes has always been, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I think that the City of Ferndale has exemplified this every day. The gay and lesbian community practically came in and rescued this town from the brink. From the moment that PrideFest was held in Ferndale, it just felt perfect. When the other Pride event left Ferndale to move to a larger location, it just left Ferndale empty. Ferndale needs to celebrate its diversity and pride. I’ve been friends with the organizers of Ferndale Pride since I first hit the scene in 2001. We’ve all worked together on projects ranging from the Blues Festival to the Pub Crawl. I was approached by Craig Covey who asked if I’d be interested in assisting in security and safety aspects of the event. My answer was “Absolutely, yes.” I love the fact that Ferndale Pride is small, extremely community oriented, and gives back to local organizations that do so much good work. Besides that, I just absolutely LOVE Ferndale!
4) Do you have any other community involvement?
A lot of my community involvement these days is frequently behind the scenes. I still remain active with organizations like Affirmations and Pride. I am mildly active in the political scene when election years roll around. I’m a fairly vocal liberal Democrat and I’m pretty sure anyone who knows me will attest that I don’t hide that at all. I’m also a part of the SAFE on Campus group for Oakland Community College. SAFE on Campus is an organization promoting the safety and welfare for GLBTQQI students and staff at OCC.
5) Are you going to school and what for?
I am currently enrolled at Oakland Community College and starting a lot of my prerequisites for mental health/social work. This is a field that has really interested me for a while. It’s very multi-faceted and there is quite a bit that you can do with that education. I’m very much still in the beginning stages, but it’s been fascinating so far.
6) How have things changed since you were in high school?
You know, it’s funny. I hear stories from friends who have kids that are in high school, or I’ll meet people at Pride events who have recently graduated and it’s always interesting to hear their stories of what it was like in school. Things have changed so dramatically since when I was in high school. The speed at which information is put out is just amazing. Geez, I sound like my grandparents… It’s only been around 12 years since I was in high school, but how much has changed is just mind-boggling to me. Bullying has become something far more intense than what it was for me in school. It’s changed vastly… a student doesn’t have to just target you in class with a few insults. He or she can follow you all the way home now with Facebook on smartphones and the internet being everywhere. Bullying is everywhere and kids can’t escape from it. That’s what’s alarming to me. When I was in school, I could at least get in my car and drive home and be free from all of it. I think it’s also important to note that my Mom and sister have come leaps and bounds from where they were before. They’re far more accepting of me than they were at first. I think society in general has come in that direction. With more and more people coming out, the vilification by the “Christian” right has been disproven. We (gays and lesbians) are not these horrific monsters they made us out to be.
7) How did it feel seeing old classmates changing their Facebook pictures to red?
I was absolutely overwhelmed to see my former classmates and straight allies changing their Facebook photos to the red HRC logo. It brings tears to my eyes even now just thinking about it. Growing up in a farm-town where I grew up with my classmates from Kindergarten to graduation and being surrounded by a lot of narrow-minded views, I was just absolutely in awe when I saw friends and loved ones supporting me and my community in our fight for equality. The most amazing part is that one of my Facebook friends was my music teacher. She was our music teacher from kindergarten all the way up through high school. She changed her profile picture to the red equal sign and I just started crying. To be able to feel that love and acceptance is just truly, truly wonderful.