By Eartha Melzer
TRAVERSE CITY – Recent successful GLBT events have increased the visibility of our community in this part of the state. Both the Laurapalooza benefit and North Michigan Pride were events that put the community’s face forward.
Union street station was packed all evening long June 22 for the Laurapalooza, a benefit for Northern Michigan Pride and the Thomas Judd Center, which treats people with HIV/AIDS.
The dance floor was crowded, the energy high.
Renowned local entertainer Princess Laura, aka Laura Willcock, emceed the event and performed her trademark mix of stand-up, karaoke, singing and acrobatics as well as taking part in a reunion performance by her much-loved former Northern Michigan band – 74 Marauder.
The Laurapalooza raised $2,000.
“What was really nice about the benefit was that it was at a straight bar,” said organizer Pam Dueke. This represents a first for Northern Michigan Pride.
Dueke was also pleased with the HIV education that went on at the benefit. Mary Merwin from the Thomas Judd Center at Munson hospital brought brochures about HIV, and set them out on the bar.
“Everybody thinks it [AIDS] only affects the gay community,” said Dueke, “and many people don’t know about Judd.”
The Thomas Judd Center is the primary source of services for people living with HIV/AIDS since the HIV/AIDS Wellness Network closed last year.
The 8th annual North Michigan Pride festival took place on June 19th at the Grand Traverse Commons. Around 160 people gathered for the event, which was bigger and more diverse than ever.
The festival featured talent from throughout the area as well as some national acts: Johnny Dangerous from Chicago, the hip-hop duo C-Note, God-Es, Barb Barton and the Bongo Babes, Sister Otis, and the Soul Biscuits.
M’Lynn Hartwell, GLBT advocate and Triangle Foundation board member, addressed the crowd on civil rights and political issues. Hartwell warned of police profiling of gays, efforts to amend the constitution to prevent equal marriage rights, and erosion of the separation if church and state. She encouraged the crowd to support adding sexual orientation to state civil rights laws, as well as repealing the anti-sodomy law.
“The bottom line is this,” said Hartwell. “The only way that we can ensure equal rights for all is through working together. In 2004 it will be women, minority groups – and especially the LGBT community who can defeat Bush. But we can only succeed if you vote!”
This year’s Pride Festival was a family-friendly event, with more than the usual amount of activities for children.
“We tried to focus on the positive, and services community has to offer,” said Dueke, “Friends North was there and artists showed up – painters, a birch frame-maker, a woman selling magical crystals, rocks, and dream catchers, and someone did body massage.”
During the early hours of Pride Fest two men exchanged rings and said vows in a simple commitment ceremony among friends and family.
Organizers say they are trying to build Northern Michigan Pride into a regional event that would contend with the Pride festivals in Lansing and Detroit. To that end, Northern Michigan Pride plans to host events throughout the year.
Dances, a fashion show and a benefit garage sale are all in the works. And, in contrast with previous years, organizers expect to begin planning next year’s Pride event with money in the bank.
For more information on Northern Michigan Pride see www.northernmichiganpride.org.