GRAND RAPIDS – West Michigan Pride’s move to Calder Plaza proved profitable as over 11,000 people joined in the 25th anniversary celebration of all that makes the LGBT community great. Vendors flourished among the rows of affirming churches, politicians, activist and community groups and businesses.
Grand Valley State University’s Out and About student group had a presence, with President Leslie Boker sharing information about the group. “I leapt into it last semester,” Boker said. “I went to Pride Prom and I didn’t know anybody. They took me around and introduced me to everyone there. It’s my community now.”
Boker is a liberal studies major who is one of the first students to take advantage of a newly formed LGBTQ studies minor at the university. “I’ve studied queer theory and queer literature, which is a really fun. It’s about a foundation of literature for LGBT people – stuff you need to know about.”
The business community came out to support West Michigan Pride too. General Electric Aviation’s GLBTA Alliance had out employees sharing their pride in community and their company. Amy Venlos, co-lead of the group, said that the alliance is good for professional development and outreach. “They do workshops for employees and celebrate diversity along with 15 or 16 other affinity groups,” Venlos said.
Member Jasmine Dean has been involved for about a year. “It gives you a chance to network with people of similar interests, so you meet and know you’re not alone. And it lets us know that GE is inclusive so we feel welcome there.”
Venlos said that GE currently has a 75 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, and that the focus is now on including transgender people in policies and protecting gender expression.
The Center for Inquiry is a secular organization that encourages a humanist, rather than religious, approach to life. David Cleveland and Susan Johnson represented CFI Michigan, inviting passersby to their regular workshops on a variety of timely topics – including discussion on HIV-status discrimination and equality for the LGBT community. “One of our humanist values is equality. Every person matters and should be treated fairly. We need to end religious persecution,” Johnson said.
Rebecca Kvott was there on behalf of Plymouth United Church of Christ. “Everyone is welcome,” she said. Plymouth UCC and several other congregations were among the booths.
Politicians also took to the crowd, with ally Michael L. Tuffelmire publicizing his run for the 3rd Ward City Commission seat in Grand Rapids. Tuffelmire worked with the Holland is Ready group in their efforts to pass a human rights ordinance.
Holland also brought forth their first openly gay candidate, Donald Martin. Martin is running for an at-large seat on the Holland City Council, and he is likely the first gay candidate in Ottawa County. “I’m running against a councilperson who voted against LGBT rights,” Martin said. As he wooed potential voters he encouraged people to do more. “It’s not just enough to hope, you have to get involved. Volunteer, make calls, talk to your friends and family that live in Holland, put this out on Twitter and Facebook,” he said.
Visitors and vendors came from all over West Michigan, including Traverse City, Holland, Muskegon, and Lansing. The turn-out is at least double the amount from last year’s event, which took place in Riverside Park.
Wendy Morris is a volunteer for The Network, the community center located in Grand Rapids. The Network was instrumental in putting on the festival and the next day’s parade. Morris got people signed up for the Network’s mailing list.
“The Network is very important to me,” Morris said. “We need a place where we can all come together and share interests.” Morris is the facilitator of the Network’s Wellness Group, and recently took over facilitating the Women’s Group. “I lost 125 lbs, with the idea of calories in, calories out. Having a group helps me be accountable. I feel good with what I’m doing and being able to share it keeps me motivated. Having like-minded people around is a bonus.” The Network offers many groups and programs, including social clubs and a place for youth.
Another West Michigan group got people do-si-do-ing in pure Grand Rapids style. The Grand River Renegades GLBTQ Country Western Dance Club meets out of Rumors Nightclub in Grand Rapids. For West Michigan Pride they brought in a dance floor and gave demonstrations and lessons that were enjoyed by people of all ages.
Learn more about the Network and West Michigan Pride at http://www.grlgbt.org/west-michigan-pride-2013/.