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LANSING – As people of all ages, genders and orientations gathered in Lansing last weekend to march to the capitol steps and celebrate Michigan Pride, Mark Janger of Ypsilanti wore his Pride March shirt from the 1987 Washington DC event.
For over two decades he has gone to marches and festivals to be one of the masses of people who show up to let the government and the public know the need for equal rights and respect for LGBT people.
“It’s amazing how things have changed, because back then all we were talking about was nondiscrimination language,” Janger said. “That’s pretty much widely accepted though. Marriage equality wasn’t even something we, the LGBT community, even dreamed about. So we were talking about domestic partnership, very limited kinds of relationship recognition. But the March in 1993 was the time of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, gays in the military, so it got a lot of press and it was really a turning point.”
Janger considered how much has changed as well as how far this state has to go.
“Michigan has a lot of work to do and it’s really important that we come together every year and remind ourselves and to rededicate to working for equality. It’s also wonderful to see all the religious organizations here too. I feel that the whole community, not just the LGBT, the whole community, is just coming together and recognizing fairness.”
And while there was a mass same-gender wedding ceremony on the capitol steps, and plenty of LGBT showing, allies were an important part of this year’s march and festivities. Like many people, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero is an ally partially because he is close to someone who is gay. He shared his story with the crowd.
“I was blessed to grow up in a loving family, led primarily by my mother Virginia whose unlimited love and compassion spilled out into everything and everyone she touched,” Bernero said. “When my brother Victor confided to us that he was indeed gay, my mother’s response set the tone for the entire family. We simply loved him.
“Unfortunately classmates, co-workers and even some relatives were not so kind. My brother endured more rejection, ridicule, and outright hatred than a human being should. Maybe some of you…have felt some of those pains of rejection.
“Victor Bernero is no longer with us, but I remain outraged over the treatment he received decades ago at the hands of a supposedly civilized society, and I am committed to nothing less than justice, equality and acceptance for each of you.”
Having vocal elected officials is key to moving equality forward. Michigan Pride Co-Chair Emily Horvarth reminded the crowd of this.
“In this building behind me, this big beautiful gorgeous building behind me, we have senators and representatives who are actually introducing legislation to protect all families, recognize our children, and recognize our relationships as equal before the law. Find out who these representatives are and support them,” she told those gathered.
Another pressing issue for the LGBT community is HIV and AIDS. Activist and journalist Todd Heywood reminded attendees of this fact with his speech. He said that 10 percent of men who have sex with men who are in their 20s are infected with HIV, and that 60 percent of them don’t even know it. “We can change that by getting tested,” he said, stressing that there are new medications and news ways of preventing the disease’s transfer.
With the end of the rally, attendees moved to Old Town, where the music and fun of the festival began. Here Annette and Donna Perry-Belanger strolled through the crowd, donning wedding garb, holding hands and swaying to the melodies sung by Michigan artists like Untamed Beauty. Annette’s been to many prides over the years. But this was Donna’s first, and when asked her name, the blushing would-be bride whispered to her love “should we say them together?” To which Annette said, “Yes, that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
The festival spilled from the main party area of Old Town, flowing with tents and tables along a path through the woods of Adado Riverfront Park. There four generations of women walked along with their faces painted, and the youngest in a stroller. Tammy Stevenson, Tara Wicks, Samantha Garza and Al-Sammi Bain of Lansing enjoyed the diversity and community of the event.
“Every year its awesome. I thought it was a lot bigger this year. We always see everyone we know. Sometimes we only see people once a year so it’s great to say hi,” Stevenson said. “We just love the feeling of love and acceptance too.”
It wasn’t just local faces in the crowd either. Groups came from all over the state to march and to host booths, including MI-Love based in Ann Arbor, Mr. Friendly campaign based in Kalamazoo and Holland-Lakeshore PFLAG. The guest of honor though was a famous Hollywood personality Ross Matthews, who soaked up a bunch of Michigan love and encouraged Michiganders to keep up the fight towards equality.