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Lansing Pride Just Keeps Getting Bigger — Find Out How Organizers Are Finding Success, Community Support

Colorful fest to light up Old Town neighborhood June 22

Liam Clymer

Pulling off a successful community event is a tremendous undertaking, but for Lansing Pride organizers like Ben Dowd, board president, and Brad Johnson, board treasurer, the festival is well worth the effort.

“When you look out across the crowd and you see the smiles on people’s faces and pure celebration during that day, that’s success,” Johnson said. “There'll always be stressors behind the scenes or things going on that we’re working through, but when you step back and look at that crowd, you just feel this overwhelming sense of 'wow.' This is why we do what we do and that's the driving force behind continuing to make this better every year.”

Just four years ago, Dowd remembers Lansing Pride as just the seed of an idea in a conversation amongst a group of people at a pizza joint. Last year, the event drew an estimated 8,000-10,000 festivalgoers, and vendors started reaching out in December to ensure they’ll have a spot come June.

Lansing Pride 2024 will be held on June 22 in Old Town, the city’s original downtown, located just east of the Grand River. The area has a reputation as an arts and culture district characterized by eclectic and frequently queer-supportive businesses. This year's festival will feature a special performance by Loosey LaDuca, who competed during the 15th season of “RuPaul's Drag Race," and local Lansing band Starfarm as the closing act. Dowd said from the beginning, Lansing Pride has aimed to build a connection between Lansing’s culture and its LGBTQ+ community.



After the group Michigan Pride, which hosted the original Lansing Pride from 1990 to 2011, began to focus more on rallies and advocacy work, the Lansing LGBTQ+ community vocalized a need for a new group to step in, Dowd said. “The community really reached out and said, ‘We need an organization that will continue to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community every year,'” he said. “Lansing's very diverse, so making sure that there's representation in our capital city is so very, very important.”

Dowd said the space they curate at Lansing Pride is done with careful intention. “One of the missions of our organization is to really highlight the local parts of the LGBTQ+ community,” Dowd said. “No matter where they fall into the world or where they are in their life cycle, the space we created is very intentional to include everybody.”

Close behind the community's need for an intentional safe space came a need to get others involved. Dowd said that finding the right mix of people made all the difference. “Part of this is putting the right people in the room to realize how to make this successful,” he explained. “[We want] to ensure that folks want to come back and that there's never a point where someone says, ‘Meh, I’ll go somewhere else instead of Lansing.’”

Johnson said the personal connection Lansing Pride members make with the community and partners directly impacted their rapid growth. It’s about building a bond with repeat sponsors and reaching out to the “right person,” he said.

Dowd said the group has paid special attention to the user experience. “We worked really hard and invested in technology to make things very simple,” Dowd said. “So when [a sponsor or vendor] signs up now, they are auto-signed up, they get a contract immediately, they get an invoice, they pay it and they're done — it's just a really nice process."

The group also tries to show possible sponsors how their support has helped Lansing Pride grow. “Being able to show [sponsors] that Lansing Pride has grown substantially since year one really helps,” Johnson said. “We had two to three times as many people last year as we did the first year.”

With a record-breaking crowd expected this year, Lansing Pride will offer celebrations beyond the main event on June 22. The night before the festival, on June 21, there’ll be a pub crawl-style party where participants can pre-celebrate Pride at multiple participating Lansing venues.

Dowd understands that some people outside the local area won’t be able to make it. “If you're able to attend, that is great; and if there's something closer to your home, please support that as well,” Dowd said. “All of our communities want to make sure that their space is represented, and of course we love to see everyone who can make it, but it’s also really important to us that people support their more local endeavors as well.”

2024 Lansing Pride performer Loosey LaDuca. Photo: lansingpride.org
2024 Lansing Pride performer Loosey LaDuca. Photo: lansingpride.org

While Michigan Pride is no longer hosting the Pride festival in Lansing, Dowd said that their Pride rally, taking place at the capital on June 1, is a good way to show support at the statewide level too. 

Dowd noted that one of the strongest forms of support he’d seen in his extensive history of planning Lansing events was in the amount of people volunteering for Lansing Pride. “I've never seen this amount of people turn out to volunteer for an event ever — last year we had almost 250 volunteers for one day,” Dowd explained. “There are people already signed up for this year, and it's just phenomenal. Our volunteers love to come out and help and be a part of the day and the celebration.”

Johnson said that for him, success is measured in joy. “As long as everybody's happy, we're happy — then it was successful,” Johnson said. “Year one it rained, but it was still a success. Everyone was happy. People were dancing in the streets. It was a great turnout in year one, even with the rain.”

Lansing Pride: June 22, 1-10 p.m., Old Town neighborhood. Sign up to volunteer at lansingpride.org/volunteer.



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