One notoriously quiet corner of the Great Lakes State is about to get a lot louder (and prouder), when Mackinac Island — recently named “World’s Best Island” by Travel + Leisure — hosts its first ever Pride Festival Sept. 22-25.
The tiny island, accessible only by ferry (on foot or bicycle) will be awash in color as Pridegoers enjoy a wide range of activities, from some tried-and-true Pride mainstays to uniquely old-fashioned events with a classic Mackinac Island spin.
Behind the scenes, there are plenty of tasks keeping the planners at Straits Pride busy ahead of the big event. Mackinac Pride will feature a full calendar of activities that stretch across the weekend. There will be more traditional Pride fare, of course, including drag queen bingo, queer brunch, queer prom and a drag show headlined by Lansing’s Bentley James and Ann Arbor’s Emma Sapphire, who was named Miss Michigan Best Professional Drag Queen 2022. But attendees will also get a chance to revel in Pride in classic Mackinac Island style, too.
Pride Ride will take bike riders on a trip around the perimeter of the island (along the route, riders can stop at places like iconic Cannonball Oasis for fried pickles and ice cream), and it’s hard to imagine anything more quaint than a horse-drawn hay ride (the “Dray Ride”). Organizers even made sure to showcase the area’s natural beauty by boat with a Pride Cruise.
Straits Pride has taken a detail-oriented approach to managing every aspect of the event, planning for contingencies and sorting out aspects of each activity. In many ways, holding a big event on the island is not dissimilar to events held anywhere — like many Pride celebrations, there will be vendor booths, tables for people to eat and drink, and coordination with local businesses.
When it comes to Mackinac Island, however, there’s one detail event planners can’t take for granted: ground transportation. Getting stuff from Point A to Point B can become a logistically complex, time-consuming endeavor. Luckily, the Straits Pride board is staffed with members familiar with every inch of this well-loved vacation destination.
So, how do organizers set up for an event like Pride in a place where the only vehicles on the island include emergency vehicles? If you’re Kyrsten Cavazos, vice president of Straits Pride, there’s a good chance you know a guy. With a horse (or two).
Yes, even the carriage horses have garnered special attention. “This is outside the normal horse work schedule,” she explains. “You can’t just grab a carriage or make horses work overtime. We made sure the horses had time off before and after their work — we’re getting it done right.”
Cavazos, who has been a year-round resident of the island for 10 years, explains that while the logistics can get complicated, veteran Mackinac Islanders are well-versed in getting where they need to go. “Everybody has learned how to drive their bikes with a huge cart behind them,” she says, which comes in handy for hauling around Pride Festival must-haves like audio equipment. Organizers can manage larger cargo by calling on one of the local horse and carriage drivers. “Someone on the board will have a guy who can manage any task that comes up,” she says.
Cavazos says the Straits Pride team wanted to make sure there was something for everyone. Ticketed events, like its queer prom event and the Pride Cruise, for example, are mixed in with free events. Attendees will find sober activities if they aren’t there to drink and lots of family-friendly entertainment. “We really wanted to focus on being able to include everybody who was interested in this weekend and making sure that anybody, at any income level, in any lifestyle, any work style, could attend something for this weekend,” she says.
Cavazos says Straits Pride has been on the receiving end of a few complaints since the organization was established in 2018 (mostly from people who live outside the area), but by and large, the community and the Mackinac Island governing body have fully supported the group’s efforts.
Ultimately, the event is not for (or even spite of) the naysayers — Mackinac Island Pride is for the queer community and its allies. “That’s who we serve, and we want people to feel safe on the island,” she says. “We’d like to change the narrative to show people that though it is rural and it is up north, that, contrary to reputations over the years and what the media sometimes makes it seem like at times, this area is very open to the LGBT community — it can be very progressive and welcoming.”
“What we really want people who attend these events to experience over the whole weekend is just feeling loved and welcomed and wanted both on Mackinac Island and within the LGBT community.”
Visit StraitsPride.org to buy a t-shirt or to purchase tickets to Drag Brunch, Pride Cruise and the Dray Ride hayride. The Mackinac Island Pride Festival takes place Sept. 22-25.