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Michigan Pride Off to Late Start, Relocates Amid Tension

By |2018-01-16T15:49:35-05:00August 25th, 2016|Michigan, News|

This years festival will be held in Lansing’s REO Town. BTL file photo: 2015 Rally by AJ Trager

Officials with Michigan Pride admit this year’s Lansing pride events got off to a late start, but are hopeful that a new set of sponsors combined with a new location will lead to a renewal of the event.
“This hiccup has put us back on on track,” said Ryan Sebolt, co-chair of the organization. “We’ve more than made up ground, in no small part because of the partnerships.”
Those partnerships are with the commercial association and businesses in Lansing’s REO Town. That’s a region of the city located just under a mile south of the state Capitol. It’s named after the former REO Motor company, one of the nation’s first auto industry leaders. The neighborhood has seen a resurgence and revitalization in recent years. The local utility sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into the main thoroughfare in the neighborhood, South Washington Ave., as part of building its new natural gas powered electricity generated power plant in the neighborhood. A host of chic bars and eateries have popped up, as well as a wine bar and a church that believes in reparative therapy for the LGBT community.
The move to REO Town represents the annual pride festivals third location in as many years. Two years ago the festival was in Old Town, the city’s de facto gay neighborhood. Last year, organizers moved the event to Riverfront Park in downtown Lansing – a return to the festivals 90s beginnings. City of Lansing records show that in April, Michigan Pride officials sought use of the same Riverfront Park location.
“We thought we were in a better position than we were,” Sebolt said.
Recognizing that tough position set the board into a scramble just six weeks before the announced date of the event. There were discussions of closing Clinton Street in Old Town, a side street linking the city’s two gay bars – Spiral Dance Bar and Esquire Bar. But negotiations with Spiral collapsed, according to both sides.
The cause of the collapse is not entirely clear. Spiral manager Sam Courtney said the bar offered to provide the nonprofit a stage, sound systems, arrange all the festival entertainment and to move the festival into the bar’s parking lot, cutting costs for Michigan Pride associated with city street closures.
But Sebolt characterized the offer from the dance club as a “take-over.”
“We just wanted them to help with some entertainment,” he said.
Courtney said the Spiral offer included a request to place two Spiral employees on the Michigan Pride Board of Directors. The bylaws allow up to nine board members, but the organization is currently operating with five. In addition to the board posts, which Courtney said would be only for the duration of the festival this year, the bar sought access to volunteers from Michigan Pride to help with the stage, access to the organization’s social media accounts to promote the entertainment, and someone from Michigan Pride to pass the bucket at Spiral to raise funds to underwrite the entertainment and stage.
Courtney and Liz Deatrick, assistant manager at Spiral, made the offer during a meeting with Antionette King-Short, a board member of the organization known locally as DJ Fudgie. King-Short offered to take the proposal to the Michigan Pride Board, but Spiral representatives were told they were not allowed to come to the meeting, they told BTL.
Sebolt said the Spiral team was not prohibited from attending the meeting, rather the board wanted the opportunity to discuss the proposal without the representatives present.
“Once we discussed it, we would have – if we decided to go that way – had them in to discuss it,” Sebolt said.
But that never happened. REO Town Commercial Association made essentially the same offer as Spiral. The organization accepted that offer, and the commercial association actually put in the application for the city permits – placing its own executive director as the contact for the festival. Sebolt said the partnership with REO Town has already resulted in three businesses stepping up as sponsors. He declined to discuss what that categorization meant.
Spiral officials contend a personal conflict between King-Short and bar owner Tom Donnall was the true driving force behind the move to REO Town. King-Short denied there was an issue, saying only that the conflict between the two from two years ago “had been addressed internally.”
Former Michigan Pride board members tell BTL that is not accurate. The board members talked to BTL on the condition that they not be identified because of nondisclosure agreements they had signed. Those members said King-Short’s personal battle with Spiral led to her trying to cut the dance bar out of all events in 2015.
That conflict appears to also be interfering with the nonprofit’s largest fundraiser, the White Party. That party happens the Friday before Pride. For $10, participants get a wristband which gives them access to three gay-friendly venues in Old Town – Sir Pizza, Esquire Bar and Spiral. But this year, as of deadline, Spiral is still waiting for a contract with the nonprofit.
“We are waiting for a contract with them before advertising,” Courtney said.
But Pride officials said Spiral had refused to donate 100 percent of the door to the organization and as a result, would not be an official location. Spiral has for the past few years donated a percentage of the door to Michigan Pride.
And while the festival will be held over two and half miles away from Old Town where the gay bars are, Pride leadership said they are excited to “highlight other parts of the city of Lansing.”

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