by Jessica Carreras
FERNDALE, Mich. – It was an overcast day and chilly for August, but spirits were sunny and hearts were warm at Transgender Michigan’s Pride in the Park picnic on Aug. 22 in Ferndale.
This year’s turnout, compared to last year’s crowd of almost 100, was a bit smaller for the Pride celebration’s third year in Ferndale’s Geary Park.
“We’re worried that the weather may have turned people off,” Executive Director Rachel Crandall said at the event.
But despite the threat of rain and slow trickle of picnickers, Crandall said early in the afternoon that they’d be there until 6 p.m. “I wouldn’t want someone to show up and us be leaving,” she explained. “A lot of people, this might be their only time out all year. A few people, this is their only time out ever.”
It certainly wasn’t the first time at the picnic for some, including Crandall’s brother, David Crandall, who has been coming to Pride in the Park for years as an ally to the transgender community. “I’ve supported Rachel ever since she came out and through her transition,” he said. “I know a lot of transgender and gay and lesbian people when they come out, they’re not supported by their family and I want to help Rachel. I want to give her a good situation in the family. I want to give her support.
“I’ve been coming to the picnic for three years, maybe more, and I think it’s great.”
Pride in the Park gives the transgender community in Michigan and the surrounding states a chance to gather together for one day a year to enjoy food and good company in a safe environment. It is the only transgender Pride event in the state of Michigan. The event is sponsored by the Triangle Foundation, American Laser Centers, Rosemary Jozwiak and Associates, Flint AIDS Wellness, Sweet Lorraine’s Cafe and the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center. Several sponsors also had booths at the picnic.
Jane Wong of Royal Oak was at Pride in the Park for the first time ever, supporting her godson, Patrick Mair of Troy. But though Wong was a newcomer at the picnic, she is certainly no stranger to Transgender Michigan.
When Mair came out as transgender, Wong did everything in her power to become “a tremendous ally,” according to Rachel Crandall, including attending Transgender Michigan meetings with her godson and encouraging him to make friends in the community.
Wong said that though she feared for her godson’s safety, she knew that Transgender Michigan offered a place where he would be safe and could branch out socially. Plus, it offered a learning experience for her. “Listening to their concerns helps me understand more why my godchild reacts they way he does,” she said. “It’s a very warm and compassionate group. … They’re very wonderful people in safe environment.”
Wong added, “I’m so glad this group exists because it really helps so much.”
For transgender people and their allies, the Pride in the Park picnic proved to be an extension of their support and love for each other in a space where transgender people could be happy, be safe and be themselves.
It’s something David Crandall had always wanted for his sister, who used to be married, came out late in life and struggled with finding an accepting job, finding love and most importantly, finding herself. “We’ve been closer since she came out,” David admitted of he and his sister’s relationship. “She was always struggling. She wasn’t really her. I was the first one who kind of suspected that things were going to change, and they did. She’s far more herself than she was before.”
And now, though the work of Transgender Michigan and events like Pride in the Park, she’s able to give back to her community.