DETROIT – On Aug. 24 on the steps of the Capitol building in Lansing, Khayla Johnson and Devon Davis will exchange vows as part of the mass commitment ceremony of Michigan Pride. They got warmed up for their long life together by coming to Motor City Pride June 9, with little son Landon in tow.
“We came from Holt, but I’m from this area originally,” said Davis. “This is their first Pride so it’s pretty exciting.”
Johnson and son Landon looked around in awe at the thousands of diverse people who filled Hart Plaza. They watched the parade come in, a 20-minute long procession of groups waving rainbow flags, sexy shirtless boys with squirt guns, couples of men and couples of women holding hands and walking to the sound of the Detroit Party Marching Band, leather-clad women of Dykes on Bikes, proud PFLAG parents, supportive union groups, ally politicians and more. “It was great to see so many people,” Johnson said. “I’m still taking it all in.”
When the Pride season winds down with the August event in Lansing, Davis will add the hyphenated “Johnson” to her name, but still only unofficially. “It should be Davis-Johnson. That’s the way it should be. I’m the odd one out right now and that’s not right.” The couple hopes to have a larger ceremony someday – a wedding that will be recognized by the state and even the ability to be a legal parent to the son whom they both care for.
Equality Michigan hosted the two-day Motor City Pride festival – an annual gathering of family-friendly fun and activism that attracted over 50,000 LGBT people and allies to the heart of Detroit. “This is a great opportunity for the community to celebrate, and also a great opportunity for us to get the message out there, and have one on one conversations,” said Equality Michigan Development Director Greg Varnum. “We’re doing consistent messaging and getting a really great response. We’re asking people to respect equality and we’re asking people for their stories of why they respect equality.”
Two projects at the event put this idea of storytelling into the spotlight. Equality Michigan collected pink triangles with messages of equality, which they hung on the large banners leading up to their booth as people entered the festival. The other project let people get really artsy by making squares about their story that will be sewn together for an equality quilt. Varnum credited Victim Services Advocate Sara Spurgeon with the idea.
“With Equality Michigan we want you to be free to express yourself,” Spurgeon said. “If you look at these, they aren’t perfect. There’s spelling errors on some. There are different styles. But they all fit. This is a very human way to share and everybody can do it.”
Throughout the weekend over 120 people sat down to create a square. Spurgeon hopes the quilt can be an ongoing project that the group can take with them to lobbying and educational events to put a personal touch on the issues that Equality Michigan fights for.
As part of the activism, volunteers gathered information from those who wanted to be more involved in the fight for equality. Tim Atkinson came all the way from Bay City to help with the effort, noting that this is the largest Pride in the state and that “people have to get out and be active. I’ll do anything I can to promote the cause of equality,” he said.
Atkinson was joined by Grace Ficker, a Farmington Hills woman who has seen inequality first hand. “My wife lives in South America. We have to keep doing one step at a time so someday we can get married and she can get her green card,” Ficker said.
Political figures also came out in support of Motor City Pride. State Sen. Rebekah Warren walked in the parade and State Sen. Coleman Young Jr. spoke at the rally. Young quoted Victor Hugo stating, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” He went on to say, “The idea for marriage equality is an idea whose time has come. The idea is for all the brothers and sisters in the movement be treated like equals. The idea for our brothers and sisters in the movement to be recognized, the idea that our brothers and sisters be able to have the same rights as everyone else and for us as Americans to adhere to the immortal words that all men are equal, all men are equal.”
Another guest speaker was Jeff Montgomery, a long-time activist who helped found Triangle Foundation in 1991 after his partner was murdered and police refused to investigate because it was just another gay victim. Triangle eventually merged with Michigan Equality and became Equality Michigan. Montgomery recalled that he was executive director of Triangle Foundation when the organization took over management of the festival.
“We were thankful at how successful it was, it was always such a teriffic event. I loved it when we had it in Ferndale, but in Detroit it’s great for Equality Michigan and for the city. It shows how far we have come, and the event gets bigger every year.”
Through the weekend, there was only one reported challenging incident. Managing Director Emily Dievendorf explained, “One empowering moment was also a sobering one. Our victim services staff figured out that fundamentalists were wandering pride trying to talk people into ‘converting.’ Some attendees, while seeking relief at Hart Plaza from the stress and exclusion that comes from lacking basic civil rights, were being told they needed to leave their ‘sinful’ lives behind to be straight.
“Equality Michigan staff and Motor City Pride staff and security promptly kicked as many of them we could find out. It is OUR party. They were excused from our community event about acceptance and inclusion because we deserve some time away from the hate, attacks and exclusion. We could use some time in a place where the whole theme is our being able to be our genuine selves. The incident and some hateful messages we found left behind by the group, is a great example of why we need pride month and pride activities. We need to refresh. We need to rebuild our spirits. We need to know we aren’t alone. We need to strengthen and connect our armies. We need to just be – because there is still so much to do.”