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BY AJ TRAGER
DETROIT – Michigan is a very divided state. But with less than a month before the U.S. Supreme Court issues a decision on nationwide marriage equality, thousands spent their weekend downtown in Hart Plaza for Motor City Pride, the largest LGBT celebration in the state.
The two day festival included local and nationally acclaimed performances; access to over 100 vendors, local non-profit groups, community groups and food trucks; dance parties; and the Pride Parade.
Unlike previous years, no protestors came out to stand at the front gates, and added security at both entrances, as well as inside MCP, worked as a preventative measure to maintain that MCP was safe from anti-LGBT hate crimes.
Eastern Michigan University students Crystal and Bri came to MCP to celebrate equality and the LGBT community. They’ve been together for six months but have both attended MCP separately for many years.
“A lot of people can’t get to Ferndale Pride,” Crystal said. “This one is a good mid section.”
Michigan held its first Pride march 43 years ago which evolved into the annual Motor City Pride festival. Ferndale hosted MCP for many years but Equality Michigan, organizer of MCP, decided to return the festival to Detroit three years ago. Since that decision, Metro Detroit has become home to two Pride festivals, the other remaining in Ferndale.
“I feel like it’s good to see the younger LGBT around the older LGBT; they can see that there is still that opportunity to have a family and go on with their regular life because the older LGBT are people with stabilized jobs and younger LGBT don’t often see that,” Bri said.
The SCOTUS decision will determine if LGBT families will have the right to co-adopt their children. April DeBoer and Jayne DeBoer-Rowse, Michigan plaintiffs in one of many same-sex marriage cases brought before SCOTUS, began their journey seeking out second-parent adoption rights and were declined since the state does not currently recognize same-sex marriage. The family model has drastically changed since the institution of marriage was written into law and it’s now extremely common to have single-parent households, as well as youth raised by grandparents, other family members or raised by lesbian and gay parents.
Bonnie and Heidi Jean got together at Ferndale Pride, but have known one another since high school. They married in Windsor in 2007 and came to MCP to celebrate not only their nine year anniversary but also to show their son, Morrison, what Pride is all about.
“I’ve got my fingers crossed,” Heidi said discussing the SCOTUS ruling. “I have faith that marriage equality will happen.”
“We pay joint federal taxes, but our state taxes have to be filed separately. It’s really annoying; we have to pay out all this extra money federally, but we have no benefits together. If something were to medically happen to her, I can’t make her decisions and vice versa and she also can’t adopt him (Morrison),” Bonnie said.
The marriage decision is going to greatly change their lives together, especially the tough decisions that will affect Morrison throughout his life.
“If she were to die, it’s sad to say, but he would probably go to her next of kin,” Heidi said. “We have legal documents in place but they don’t necessarily hold up in court, in schools, (to) doctors and places like that. We have to have special arrangements.”
Health Alliance Plan employee, Michelle Howard, was celebrating the lives and identities of her LGBT friends at MCP. Unanimously elected by her friends to be their spokesperson, Howard proved that it also takes strong allies to move the rights of LGBT individuals forward, striving for full equality.
“It’s important for people to be happy and it’s important for people who are considered the ‘normal’ to support the rest of the community because we are all people,” Howard said. “And quite frankly, everyone has the right to be happy and people should support that. I don’t believe in all the hate and the agenda from all the religious rights. I would follow these guys through fire until they get to have their personal rights.”
Just as meeting and sharing life experiences with her LGBT-identified friends has changed her life, an affirming SCOTUS decision will dramatically change the lives of LGBT Michiganders.
“We are talking about the rights of people, we are talking about American rights for human beings,” Howard said. “Everyone has the right to be happy and everyone has the right to pursue whatever they want to pursue. Marriage shouldn’t even be a question in my mind.”
BTL ran into Stacy’e, Erinn and Taylor just after the parade June 7. MCP was Taylor’s first Pride festival but her friends Stacy’e and Erinn have been to MCP many times and were very excited to show their friend around.
No strangers to Detroit, Stacey’e and Erinn have been an item for nearly three years and are engaged. They would prefer to marry here in Michigan, however, they are prepared to go elsewhere in the event SCOTUS rules in favor of states’ bans on same-sex marriage.
“I am loving the parade this year. I haven’t been into Pride yet, but I am excited to go in,” Erinn said.
“I don’t like rules that don’t apply to everybody; that is kind of discriminatory,” Stay’e said.
“Yeah, I mean, love is love,” Taylor concluded.
Only one fight broke out near the sponsor area between two members of the LGBT community and additional Detroit police were placed on guard Sunday following an abundance of cannabis use.
Motor City Pride was sponsored by FCA US and the FIAT Brand, Bud Light, Pride Source Media Group, Comerica Bank, Menjo’s, Domino’s, GM Plus, Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, Necto, Kroger, TD, AMP 98.7 Radio, Zipcar, Inferno, Motorball, Thomson Reuters, Metra Magazine, Flame Magazine, Fifth Third Bank, MotorCity Casino Hotel, Delta Air Lines, MGM Grand Detroit, General Motors, UAW-Ford, Five-15, Whole Foods Market, Great Lakes Distributing and Uber.