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Inspiration Born from Tragedy
One year after Joe Schoch attended his first Ann Arbor Pride, formerly known as OUTFest, he knew he wanted to become actively involved with the festival and sign up to volunteer. But it wasn’t just because he had a great experience at Pride the previous summer.
“Ann Arbor Pride was one of my first connections into the community and what it is, and the following year was the Pulse shooting,” he said. “That event really hit me hard and I wanted to do something about it. And so, I tried to focus my energy on creating safe spaces within our community.”
Schoch said his involvement began as a “day-of” volunteer and increased over the years to where he is today: co-director, along with Leo Cartier.
“The second year I ended up taking over the kids’ zone and really growing out that program,” Schoch said. “A part of it, with building safe communities, I wanted to make sure it was accessible to everybody. And the kids’ zone was a really nice, easy, direct way to make sure that Pride, specifically Ann Arbor’s Pride, wasn’t just for single people and kind of the stereotypes that people think of.”
The following year grew into more of a leadership role for Schoch, and this year, he said he’s “stepped up” into a position where’s he’s not only supporting the various committees and groups but also working with media, various marketing methods and vendors for the festival.
In his day job, Schoch works in talent engagement, so recruiting, networking and building community relationships are what he does best. As a volunteer for Ann Arbor Pride, whose proceeds benefit the Jim Toy Community Center, he’s using those same talents to build up the LGBTQ community in Ann Arbor.
“I think we do a really good job of capturing the Ann Arbor community,” Schoch said, and went on to describe the diverse venues, entertainers and activities designed to appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds for their exploration this year.
“My goal then is to hopefully have Pride be able to live on in our participants’ life where they can find a place to connect and find a place of community continue to grow that throughout the year,” he said.
As one can imagine, putting on an event like Ann Arbor Pride is a community effort, and Schoch said that although it’s a lot of hard work, it’s fun, too. What especially motivates him are the behind-the-scenes conversations.
“I get to learn from other people in the LGBTQ+ community and then take those experiences and conversations and then really build on to a bigger event,” Schoch said. “Some of my favorite conversations are the first-time companies that are coming in and are trying to learn more and explore more about what we do. And when they enter our conversations with a sense of curiosity and passion that comes from such a place of love and support — to be able to see that … is pretty cool and impactful.”
For Schoch, Pride means many things.
“For me, it’s about visibility, it’s about acceptance, it’s about community and safe exploration and then being able to find yourself as ‘normal,’ or not feel as such an outsider as some people can feel outside of Pride month,” he said. “People aren’t as fortunate sometimes to have an employer that allows you to be … your true authentic self in the workplace and some people don’t feel that way in their family or their friend group.”
Schoch wishes that those attending Ann Arbor Pride this year are able to take the spirit of the weekend home with them.
“I hope that this community allows people to feel comfortable with who they are and … explore and expand that community beyond just Aug. 3 and 4,” he said.
Schoch said that this year, he’s expecting to welcome some very special first-time guests to Ann Arbor Pride: his parents. They’ll be traveling to the festival from Cleveland and are planning to finally see what their son is so passionate about every summer. Schoch said he’s both excited and a little nervous.
“I acknowledge that this is definitely something new for them and I really appreciate their willingness to come,” he said. “This is something they brought to me and that they wanted to do. And so, that made me feel really good, and it made me feel anxious because I know they’re going to have questions or see things that they don’t see every day.”
He said that he’s trying to redirect those anxious thoughts into positive ones.
“And so, I’m really trying to focus that nervousness and anxiety into: this is a good thing that’s going to help them understand me more. And for me, to share this part of my life with them for the first time is, as you can imagine, such a wide range of emotions,” Schoch said. “I’m grateful that I have parents that are curious and have kind of traveled along their own journey as allies and I think this is a pretty cool milestone for that.”
What gave Schoch some encouragement was remembering an experience at Pride last year: a teenager who had just come out as queer and their parents came to Schoch to thank him.
“It made me feel like, well, if someone else can do it I can do it, too,” he said. “It kind of goes back to that community thing where it’s so diverse and means so much. … To capture all of those perspectives and all of those emotions in a weekend-long event is one of the most difficult but is also one of the most fun and rewarding challenges I’ve had in my career.”
Visit annarborpride.com to learn more about volunteering at and attending Ann Arbor Pride.