Allegan, Michigan is quintessential small-town America. There’s a main street and restaurants serving happy diners along the Kalamazoo River. It’s a place where people on the street say hello to strangers and friends alike. Chances are, most Michiganders haven’t visited this city of 5,000, though they may have driven through it passing west on the way to queer hotspot Saugatuck-Douglas and Lake Michigan.
Lately, though, there’s been a buzz among Allegan community members. Something distinctly not-so-quiet is about to happen here on Aug. 20: the city’s first-ever Pride festival, Allegan Out Loud.
“I’ve been approached with the question of whether Allegan is ready for a Pride fest several times,” organizer Eddie Quinones-Walker says. “And my response to them is always that we shouldn’t be focusing on whether or not we’re ‘ready’ for this. We should be focusing on whether or not there’s a need for it.”
Yes, the drag queens are coming. The loud, proud Pridegoers, in all their rainbow-resplendent regalia, are coming, too. Hopefully, the people hurling hateful comments on social media toward Allegan, Speak Up!, the organization behind the event, will stay home. After all, as Quinones-Walker says, it’s not for them.
The need for a Pride fest is more than apparent to Quinones-Walker and fellow Allegan, Speak Up! members, including founders Landria and Parker Johnson and Quinones-Walker’s husband, Elvin. “There’s a big vacuum of representation within our community,” he says. “Those who are resisting are the ones who aren’t ready, and, well, this event isn’t necessarily for them.”
Plenty of people in and around Allegan are more than ready for Pride. “It’s put a lot of energy into the community,” Quinones-Walker says. “So many people are super supportive.” He says he’s heard from community members who have been waiting for a Pride event for “decades.”
He’s hearing from people who, he says, weren’t expecting to see a Pride festival any time soon, but who are grateful it’s happening. “Once we see the amount of people who come out and we get to have these face-to-face interactions with them, we’ll really get to see the impacts that we make,” he adds.
The event opens with a drag queen story time hosted by Beauty Beyond Drag Productions out of Grand Rapids. Quinones-Walker says initially the story time was meant to take place at the Allegan District Library, a decision that spurred a great deal of community angst in an era when Republican rhetoric is focused on harming the LGBTQ+ community. Lately, that focus has been on drag performers.
At a time when queer Americans are being classed as “groomers” and “pedophiles” by one of the major political parties, it’s a brave choice to include a show geared toward kids. Quinones-Walker says he’s heard that the Proud Boys, the prominent white supremacist group that has disrupted similar events throughout the country over the past few months, was aware of the event and sharing information about it online. To be clear, the group hasn't made specific threats, but that activity was concerning enough to warrant a careful approach to safety at the event.
Soon, Allegan's Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd stepped in and offered to host the event. Since the building is private, unlike a public library, Allegan, Speak Up! will have more say in who is allowed through the doors. The church has stood strong in its decision, waving off angry congregants and community members. “It’s very brave of them,” Quinones-Walker says.
Drag queen story time will feature age-appropriate material. In fact, the whole day will feature all-ages entertainment, including the drag performance that will wrap up the festival and the motivational and educational talks that will take place on the main stage in “gorgeous” Riverfront Plaza.
Quinones-Walker says Allegan County’s first openly gay judge, Bill Baillargeon, will give a talk, as will the city’s mayor, Delora Andrus. The organizers are also in touch with Jon Hoadley, the former openly gay state rep who recently made headlines when the Michigan Senate refused to allow him to serve on the Western Michigan University Board of Trustees.
Quinones-Walker and his husband Elvin hold the distinction of being Allegan County’s first legally married same-sex couple. He says they arrived in the area eight years ago to start a recycling company and almost immediately became involved in the community, educating and encouraging people to recycle more. It was in early 2020 that the pair joined up with Landria and Parker Johnson to launch Allegan, Speak Up!, as Black Lives Matter protests were being held seemingly everywhere but Allegan.
While Quinones-Walker looked on as the “entire country was in flames,” Allegan, he says, was “absolutely silent.” Nothing was being said for or against the BLM movement, and putting out a sign wasn’t enough. Allegan, Speak Up! organized a BLM rally in Allegan, which he says was “really successful.”
“Ever since, we’ve just kind of kept this momentum going, trying to do outreach,” he says. “We’re just trying to show our surrounding community what our community stands for. We’re here to give a voice to those that have had theirs taken away.”Allegan Out Loud will be held 3-10 p.m. Aug. 20 starting with Drag Queen Story Time at 3 p.m. at The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, followed by food, music, speakers and entertainment at Riverside Plaza. Follow Allegan, Speak Up! at facebook.com/alleganspeakup.