Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
By Zach Childree
One theme wove itself into the events at this year’s Hotter Than July: it was hot.
The 16-year-old celebration took place from July 27-31 this year, consisting of a dozen gatherings, lectures, parties and workshops, many taking place in the middle of the July heat. But the summer sun didn’t stop Metro Detroit’s African-American LGBTs from celebrating their community.
At the candlelight vigil Thursday night, people fanned themselves with whatever they could find – brochures, advertisements or hats. The Rev. Darlene Franklin, Senior Pastor of Agape Spirit Life Ministries, spoke to the small gathering around a tree planted the same year as the first Hotter Than July celebration. She encouraged all in attendance to remember not just their ancestors, but also those who have passed away from HIV/AIDS.
“The point of the evening is to never forget why we’re here,” Franklin said, “and to remember those that have gone on and continue to stand for equality and all that pride for gay, lesbian and transgender persons.”
As the sun set behind the 16-year-old tree, the choir of Agape Spirit Life Ministries sang, “My name is victory!” and the crowd fanned itself a little bit harder.
The heat kept up on Saturday, as the sun beat down on the thousands who flocked to Palmer Park for the annual festival and picnic, which offered something for everyone, young and old.
“We just wanted to have a family-friendly, safe place for kids to come and have fun,” Keisha Watkins said as she helped children color and finger paint at the children’s table sponsored by Karibu House. Even a few grown-ups scribbled on paper canvasses.
As children and adults pretended to be artists in one area of the festival, Angelo Brown, a coordinator for Real Enough to Change, or R.E.C. Boyz, sat under a tent in his underwear.
“We knew it was going to be hot, so we wore less!” Brown said. “It attracts more people to the table and it keeps us cool.”
The group hoped to attract people to a table full of condoms and small plastic “condom holders” that can be kept in a pocket or purse. The R.E.C. Boyz table, like many tables at the park, focused on HIV/AIDS prevention.
“Prevention is extremely important!” Brown said, motioning to the condoms. “I’ve always believed if you have it with you in the moment, it cuts down on that problem,” he said with a grin.
Another campaign at the festival took a different approach to pushing HIV/AIDS prevention. The Social Networking Advocates for Prevention Testing campaign is a project shared between Wayne State University and several different organizations, including the Michigan Department of Community Health. The SNAPT campaign uses sites like Twitter and Facebook to encourage HIV testing.
“Our message is that you should make this part of your routine health evaluations,” said Julie Gleason-Comstock, an assistant professor at Wayne State. “We have to get people talking about testing. Not everyone has to be tested, but it has to be part of the conversation in relationships.” The campaign hopes social networking can provide a safe way for people to learn about HIV in a non-judgmental way.
Whether the goal was education, community gathering or finger-painting, Kimberly Jones was pleased with this year’s celebration. Jones is the president of the Black Pride Society, which organizes Hotter Than July.
As Jones took refuge from the sun under a tent at Saturday’s picnic, she noted that the picnic crowd was larger than last year.
“It’s like a picnic and a big family reunion,” she said. “It’s laid back, and we’re eating with other organizations. They have donated a lot of food to us, their staff and anyone that comes up to them!”
As Jones resumed fanning herself, a shout from the performance stage rang out: “How hot is it?” The crowd replied: “Hotter Than July!”