DETROIT- LGBT people and allies took Hart Plaza, made it Prideful and brought the party to the Motor City this weekend for the 43rd Annual Motor City Pride Festival (MCP). There was no shortage of attendees or excitement. The theme of the event was "Generations," celebrating the many different groups that make up the LGBT community. Pioneers of the movement who marched after the Stonewall riots were honored, as was the medical treatment at the start of the AIDS crises, and attendees got excited for the next group of LGBT people carrying the torch for equality.
And how many were there? In a press conference Sunday morning, Chair of Motor City Pride Dave Wait announced that on Saturday alone, Pride had nearly reached 34,000 people — just shy of the total attendance for last year. All in just one day!
"It is about connecting our community to each other and giving support to everybody providing a safe space for all members of our community as we are working to reduce the discrimination," Wait said. "There are people who are still not comfortable in being out and who they are. And we provide a space for them to do that, to be more comfortable individuals as they are working with that."
Saturday rocked with bikini lines, pledge to vote stickers, rainbow ribbon dancers and plenty of Pride beads. Festival started off with a wedding ceremony at 2 p.m. directly followed by a Harvey Milk stamp presentation. Pride had five stages with over 100 local and national acts. This entertainment featured back-to-back performances rich with the glamour of local drag queens to a headline performance by Andy Bell of Erasure. Sunday saw some clouds, but that wasn't enough to stop the excitement. The Pride Parade swept the streets and took the clouds with it.
But it was the attendees, signing up for different organizational newsletters and adding their name to volunteer lists before joining the dance party in the back half of Hart Plaza, that really made Pride as bright as it was.
"I think it is super cool that you can be as fluid as you want here," Lindsay Paupert said. "With everywhere else out there, you have to fit into this stereotype and its not cool."
Paupert was at pride with her friends Kate Bickley, Paul Flood, Drew Empson and Alexis LaFaramboise, each one of them brand new to Pride.
Bickley and Paupert are partners and have been together for just a month. They laughed at the admittance of that, claiming that they're "still in the baby stage" and that they have a long way to go. But they were in good company on Saturday, and they knew it.
"I like seeing all sorts of people. I'm not sexual, I'm as close to Ace as they come," Paupert said. "I'm more romantic than anything. And it's so refreshing that there are those kinds of people here who get it. Most people are like, 'What do you mean you don't have a sex drive?'"
Empson wore a grey tank top with a sticker from Affirmations that read "Extra Gay." He liked the Drag representation and the different forms of personal expression.
"What attracts me is it's a way of expressing yourself with your body. It's not on a piece of paper; it's not on a canvass. I find the transformation itself, and having the confidence to go outside in drag, amazing; to see how much confidence you have in the other persona. I love it," Empson said. "I love Drag."
He describes his home life as something much of the LGBT community can relate to; he doesn't have the adult resources to openly talk to someone and he wants to experience how he is in the world as a person instead of "calmed down" at home. He came out to his parents a year ago and says they are still coming to terms with it.
"Here I can be myself and be as flamboyant and as queeny as I want. It's just here I can be more masculine and as feminine as I want. And I won't get clocked for it. I won't get like heads turning," Empson said.
BTL ran into Vagner Witehead, Amir Brown, John Maguire, Darius Wheeler and Michael Einheuser on their second cocktail by a spirits pavilion. They want to see Pride do away with the "State Fair-like" booth food, moving in more bars, Detroit restaurants and more upscale food vendors instead of elephant ears. Oh, and more dance floors. These boys were on a mission to have fun.
"It's such a revelation of the different communities. It's nice to have slices of different cultures and different groups, different whatever expressions. It's wonderful," Whitehead smiled. "And it's such a huge place, and it's nice to see that everybody is here."
The group debated whether or not Motor City Pride should have a country music stage. Even though, according to Maguire, that's what L.A. has, Brown disagreed firmly. But they would like to see more dance floors, perhaps featuring Hip Hop or Disco.
"I would like to see more shade, literally and figuratively," Brown said.
"What I am impressed with most at pride is the people. And how it is so easy to be in one area without a lot of arguing and bickering, and that you can actually show a positive image of the community instead of the negative situations and the stereotypes that you see. So the community has done themselves proud," Wheeler nodded.
While Pride is a place of excitement and joy, it's also a time to remember those in the community that we have lost. Shannon Hill was there with her kids and boyfriend, Kasey. This past week there was a death in Hill's family. After taking her time to grieve, Hill came out to celebrate Pride. Her loved ones and family were all surprised to find her at the festival this weekend but Hill, posted at the exit, wanted to be nowhere else.
"I've been allied all my life. I was raised by a gay man. People are astonished that I'm actually here today because my father passed away on Wednesday. But I couldn't figure any other way to honor him than to be here supporting what he worked for as well. And supporting my trans boyfriend," Hill said smiling.
She reached for his hand as they both passed out bags with the other one. The pair has been together for just over three years and plan to stay together for a while longer, enjoying the journey of life-together.
"Supporting pride is the only right thing to do. I raised my daughters, over here passing out bags for us, like that, too. She's an ally and a part of the Gay Straight Alliance at school. I raised my kids that you don't judge people and that you love everybody for everybody," Hill smiled.
For 35 collective years Dann Federico, Rick Farrand and Bob Enszer have been coming to MCP. They are Michigan natives and traveled all the way from Saginaw to celebrate this past weekend.
They were standing on the corner of Fort and Griswold waiting for the Parade to start. Parade walkers and floats could be seen at the starting area in front of the Chrysler building, lined up and poised for action. You could hear the Equality Michigan chant all the way down Griswold.
"What do we want?"
"When do we want it?"
"I just hope that Michigan will accept marriage equality for everybody," Farrand said. "It's so disappointing that we aren't there yet and we got so close. Just didn't make it."
His two friends both nodded. "Even with all the rain. It's still bringing us out. We got close, but still not there yet, but hopefully soon," Farrand said.
Parade Grand Marshals were the DeBoer-Rowse family. Parade special guest star and Detroit's own comedian Robert M. Nelson also hyped up the town. The parade had everything that one would expect: flying rainbow beads and tootsie rolls — one practically had to duck to not get hit. Candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Skinner, walked with her team and shook the hands of attendees. Drag Queens fanned the flames of excitement for the parade. And bringing up the rear was the Detroit Derby Girls who skated along flying a huge rainbow flag, each one of them with a big smile on their face.
This year, the family area was expanded to include face painting, visits by a Dr. Dinosaur, puppet shows and a petting zoo. Organizers put in an Elder Pavilion providing seniors a place to rest and get some shade. 120 different organizations came out in support including KICK, Mr. Friendly, Menjo's, Affirmations, Ruth Ellis Center, Campit Resort in Saugatuck, the Wayne State LGBTA Student Union, HRC and GLSEN.
But not everybody had a wonderful time. There was a small group of protestors as the entrance gate that harassed attendees on both days, and a couple of fights broke out during the hottest part of the afternoon on Saturday. Thankfully, no one was badly hurt and the situations were resolved. Following the events of the weekend, BTL was contacted via Email by a Pride attendee who was extremely concerned by the actions of the Petting Zoo, which included selling of pups and rabbits without inquiry into buyers' home lives and responsibilities. The Pride-goer hopes that, in the future, organizers of MCP take action and do not allow for this type of thing to happen again. The Petting Zoo has been contacted for a statement but has not yet responded to BTL.
Despite some negative moments, it was a successful Pride, with record-breaking turnout. There were booths, games, dancing, spirits, shows and, of course, plenty of diversity and accepting allies. Organizers hope to see everyone out there next year.