BY JAN STEVENSON
DETROIT – Motor City Pride is going it alone. After operating for the past 15 years under the auspices of first the Triangle Foundation and then its successor organization, Equality Michigan, MCP is now its own organization, complete with its own board of directors, budget and committees.
Dave Wait, the new leader of MCP, has been a driving force and the primary organizer of MCP for eight years. He has also been the EQMI board chair for the past four years, a position he stepped down from, effective Jan. 23, at the organization’s last board meeting.
“Motor City Pride is a community event and celebration, which is different from the victim services and policy mission of Equality Michigan,” said Wait. “It makes sense that the two operate separately since their missions, goals and objectives are different – compatible, just different.”
Wait has been active in InterPride, the international organization of pride events. He and his long-time partner, Chris Pollum, have traveled extensively in the U.S., Canada and Europe attending pride celebrations, meeting other organizers and learning best practices for Pride organizing. MCP will continue its membership in InterPride.
“EQMI staff presence will be as big as it was last year,” said EQMI executive director Steph White. She adds that by not being involved in the overall festival planning and execution, the state’s main LGBT political organization can focus its attention on having a larger political presence at all the other state’s Pride celebrations, including Ferndale Pride, Kalamazoo Pride, Grand Rapids Pride, Michigan Pride in Lansing and others.
The change brings Detroit in line with other major city Pride celebrations, most of which are operated independently of LGBT community groups. For example, Heritage of Pride has run the New York City Pride march, parade and festival since the mid-1970s. Chicago Pride is a unique organization, as is LA Pride and Twin Cities Pride in Minneapolis, to name a few.
“When I joined in the fall of 2015, the board asked me to evaluate this question of keeping the festival integrated fully, or separating them,” said White. “Given the history and financial structures, it’s the kind of decision that has to be made thoughtfully, so we took our time. We are now confident that both entities can be stronger and able to thrive if they are able to each focus more strategically on their different missions.”
Follow the Money
MCP’s operating budget of $225,000 has been fairly consistent since the event moved to Hart Plaza in 2011. Wait said that the revenue breakdown has been roughly 40 percent from sponsors, 25 percent from attendee gate fees, 20 percent from vendor booth rental and 15 percent from beverage sales. The largest sponsor has been Delta Airlines, at $25,000 in 2016. Plans for the 2017 event June 10-11 are well under way and the organization is working with a similar budget of $225,000.
MCP has operated at about breakeven for the last three years, according to Wait. The largest expenses have been for entertainment, rental and licensing at Hart Plaza, rental of tents, staging and equipment, security, and insurance. Wait confirmed that other than bookkeeping assistance, there has been no paid staff assigned to the event from EQMI. The new MCP entity will continue as a totally volunteer-run organization.
“In this transition year, Equality Michigan will continue to act as our fiduciary agent until we finalize our non-profit status with the IRS,” said Wait. This means that EQMI will act as the fiscal sponsorfor MCP this year as the organization does for the Trans Sistas of Color Project, for example.
Fiscal sponsorship is a formal arrangement in which a 501(c)(3) public charity sponsors a project that may lack exempt status. This assistance until non-profit status has been granted by the IRS will allow MCP to seek grants and solicit tax-deductible donations under EQMI’s exempt status.
“Our ultimate goal is to produce other events throughout the year, including the annual ComedyFest, to raise money for Motor City Pride and to build a financial reserve. Our goal is to be able to make monetary grants to local LGBT organizations.”
A New Chapter in a Long History
MCP traces its roots back to 1989 when Frank Colasonti Jr., the pride event coordinator for the Detroit Area Gay & Lesbian Council, led an effort to produce a pride event in the University of Michigan Dearborn Campus’ Gymnasium. The event was called PrideFest. In 1991, DAGLC moved the event into Oakland Community College of Royal Oak, and in 1992 Michael C. Lary became PrideFest’s coordinator.
In 1993, realizing DAGLC and the PrideFest Coordinators had different visions for the event, Lary and a number of others formed Southeast Michigan Pride, which mainly focused on producing an annual pride festival. In 1994, the event was renamed PrideFest Celebration with the tagline “A Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Pride Celebration.”
PrideFest stayed in Royal Oak until 2002, then in 2003 SEMP moved the event to downtown Ferndale. Later that year, PrideFest Celebration became a project of the Triangle Foundation, and the following year the event was renamed Motor City Pride. In 2011, remaining a project of Triangle’s new name, Equality Michigan, MCP moved to Hart Plaza, in the heart of downtown Detroit.