by Jessica Carreras
Ruth Ellis Center Executive Director Grace McClelland smoked a cigarette and stared out at the road running the length of Detroit’s Palmer Park. “I wonder what he’ll be driving,” she said.
Michigan Equality Executive Director Derek Smiertka cracked a joke in response: “My bet is Escalade.”
Saturday, July 26 marked Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s fourth time visiting the Hotter Than July Palmer Park Festival, and it fell in the middle of his controversial trial involving extramarital affairs, illegal use of city funds and an alleged assault on a Wayne County Sheriff. But the recent bad press didn’t stop the slews of people rushing to hug him, shake his hand and take pictures with their camera phones.
Kilpatrick, who recently announced the official appointment of his office’s LGBT liaison, Brad Dick, was simply there to say thanks. “This is a great part of our community,” Kilpatrick said of Detroit’s gays and lesbians. “I’ve learned a lot about this community between 2001 and now and some of the greatest Detroiters doing some of the greatest things in our community are here.
“I think their mayor should show up and say ‘thank you.'”
Kilpatrick also noted his specific appreciation for the Ruth Ellis Center, who ran one of the many booths at the festival. “I learned about the Ruth Ellis Center about a year and a half ago,” Kilpatrick said. “…I had a meeting in my office two years ago with a lot of the young people from Detroit Public Schools who are gay, lesbian, trans – I found out a lot about our young people.
“There needs to be a place for them to go; a place where parents can learn more about it, where the community can learn more about our young people. We shouldn’t cast people aside. We’ve got to love each other.”
Black Pride Society President Hank Millbourne added that he was pleased that Mayor Kilpatrick made an appearance. “I thought it was a good thing for him to come out and acknowledge our community, to walk around and meet people,” he said. “The LGBT community is very much a part of this city and metropolitan area. To have the number one city official come out and recognize our event is phenomenal.”
Though it garnered much attention from HTJ visitors, Kilpatrick’s hour-long visit was just one part of the day of events that filled Palmer Park with hip-hop and soul music, the smell of hot dogs grilling and hundreds of cars lining the street.
Though no official numbers were counted, Millbourne estimated that up to 20,000 people attended. “I always say that it’s around 10,000 people, but our sound people said that I need to stop telling that lie,” Millbourne said, laughing.
Though most visitors were local Detroiters, some came from much farther away to be a part of the festivities. “In Saginaw, they don’t have things like this for us, for couples of the same sex,” said Saginaw resident Tiffani Paschall, 28, who came to HTJ for the first time with her partner Tanita Howard, 31. “They don’t have that there, so we come here.”
“We like it here because we feel that we fit in,” added Howard. “We can be ourselves.”
The event was one of the last in a week of Hotter Than July events that included a vigil, a film presentation, a parade and workshops – all by the black LGBT community and for everyone wanting to celebrate and commemorate it. “The parade went really well, and I think we had a nice turnout for our VIP reception,” Millbourne said of the week of events. “Our Palmer Park picnic, which is always our biggest group, was great.”
Millbourne also added that there were a great deal of youth and youth-related events at the Palmer Park Festival, including more performances and a ball for them to show off on the outdoor runway. “I got lots of positive feedback from youth.”
There was plenty to do for all ages the whole day, with teenage picnickers hitting the dance floor and younger kids jumping on the blow-up pit and eating snow cones while their moms and dads caught up with old friends. “I’ve got some friends out here and so I came out to support them,” said Detroiter Theresa Davis, who came out with her kids. “This is my second time at Hotter Than July. I enjoy myself, too. The kids have something to do and we can stay in the area. They’ve been walking around, jumping on the toys and they’re gonna go over to the pool. We’re just gonna sit back and enjoy ourselves, like a normal day.”