Detroit Pistons Pride Night Draws Hundreds of LGBTQ and Ally Fans

More than 300 members of the LGBTQ community and its allies cheered on the Detroit Pistons as they defeated the Orlando Magic, 115-98, during Pride Night on Thursday, March 28, at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
The event, hosted by the Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber Of Commerce in partnership with the Detroit Pistons organization, has grown in popularity since it began in 2015.
"There has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears for us to be able to be incorporated inside of a sports arena, which is still to this day pretty much homophobic," said Kevin Terrell Heard, the founding board member and board president of the DRLGBTCC, which continues to be a leading force in building employment, networking and substantial business growth opportunities within Detroit's LGBTQ community.
"But the Pistons have opened up their hearts, they had an ally on their team [Reggie Bullock], they still have allies on their team for the LGBTQ community, and we're so excited that one of the four pillars this year that the sales team and the Detroit Pistons organization wanted to do was support equality, and that means equality for everyone, especially LGBTQ people in our community. They have been such a great partner to work with," Heard said.
When former Detroit Piston Bullock used his platform and began speaking out about LGBTQ acceptance, the Detroit Pistons organization got behind him. And while he's been traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, LGTBQ equality still remains an important pillar for the sports league.
"Equality is one of our pillar platforms for work within our community, and Pride Night is an important activation of that platform," said Erika Swilley, senior director of community and social responsibility with the Detroit Pistons. "Partnering with the Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce was important to our organization in an effort to ensure that we were inclusive of as many groups and organizations in our area as possible."
The organization showed its support with Pride lapel pins for employees and the coaching staff, and the players wore Pride shooting shirts on the court. All Pride Night attendees were given a free T-shirt, and a portion of the proceeds from their ticket purchase will benefit local LGBTQ non-profit organizations. Some of those organizations were invited by the DRLGBTCC to help promote the event like the Ruth Ellis Center, the Jim Toy Community Center, Affirmations, PFLAG, Freedom House Detroit, Stand With Trans, SAGE Metro Detroit and the Trans Sistas of Color Project.
This was a big draw for Kevin Dedicatoria of Saginaw.
"I think it's important to give, to help people who may not have the same privileges like I did. I think it's needed," said Dedicatoria, who is hopeful that LGBTQ athletes will become more accepted.
"The more LGBTQ athletes and allies that are out there and are willing and able to be open, that will help normalize LGBTQ athletes in sports and people will begin to realize we're not a homogeneous group. We all have different interests and passions and sports happens to be one of them."
Representatives from various employee resource groups leading the way toward LGBTQ equality were in attendance – Chase Pride, Comerica Bank, Turtle & Giraffe and Eric Martin of State Farm. Corporate partners for the event included PNC Bank, Miller Canfield and Ally Financial, which brought 52 people together to support the LGBTQ community on Pride Night.
"We have a culture at Ally that encourages participation in our employee resource groups and the members of PRIDE Allys are an awesome bunch of people who enjoy getting together to show our support for the community as evidenced in the activities and organizations we have been able to support in the two years since the ERG was formed," said Phil Silvio, chairperson of PRIDE Allys and SharePoint technical delivery manager.
Before the game, PRISM gay men and allies chorus of Metro Detroit sang the national anthem. All Pride Night attendees were welcome to participate in the halftime pride performance by the Detroit Pistons Dance Team to honor the LGBTQ community. Each attendee who purchased the Pride Night package were also invited to a special meet-and-greet at the end of the game with University of Michigan swimmer alumni G Ryan, who came to the game with their friends Erica Watson and Mari Longmire of Ann Arbor.
G Ryan, a five-time Big Ten champion and four-time All-American swimmer, identifies as nonbinary and previously swam on the U-M women's team. They were invited to represent queer athletes and to discuss their mental health journey through depression, anxiety and gender dysphoria.
"The realm of athletics has a lot of issues. It was tough at times and other times it was the best feeling ever because I got to be surrounded by other people who were celebrating being queer and being an athlete at the same time," said G Ryan.
When asked if they have any advice for aspiring young, queer athletes, G Ryan said, "It's all about community support. You can't do it by yourself. Finding the people who support you, who validate you and really affirm you, that was the most important thing for me, finding my community."