A year and a half ago, when the Macomb County Pride Initiative was established, there were at least two things its founders might not have anticipated. The first was that their inaugural countywide Pride celebration would be delayed for more than a year due to a worldwide pandemic. The second was that as of this writing, eight Macomb County communities — including Sterling Heights and Chesterfield Township — would either adopt a Pride Month resolution or issue a proclamation in recognition of it.
"It was really disappointing," said Macomb County Pride Chair Phil Gilchrist, with whom Between The Lines spoke in Dec. 2019 when the group was planning for the event that later was canceled. "I think the pandemic really obviously took a toll on everybody in all of the programming and events that took place throughout the world, so we were in good company, I guess. But also like many other organizations, we made a shift. And we started to conceptualize what we could do virtually and we were able to pull some programming together that we livestreamed on our Facebook page for Pride Month."
Gilchrist said the goal of Macomb County Pride is to engage LGBTQ+ people in the county and provide connection points for them. To that end, one example is the book club launched with the help of the Mt. Clemens Public Library. With titles like "Gender Outlaw" by Kate Bornstein and "Patsy" by Nicole Dennis-Benn, the group meets on the group's Discord channel once per month. For June, historical figures from "The Book of Pride: LGBTQ Heroes Who Changed The World" by Mason Funk will be selected and discussed. That's scheduled for Wednesday, June 23, from 7 to 8 p.m.
Like forming an LGBTQ-focused virtual book club, Macomb County Pride has found other ways to spread rainbows while socially distanced. Gilchrist described the positive response they've received to their outreach efforts for adopting Pride Month resolutions or proclamations in each one of the county's communities.
"We've been very excited and happy with the response that we've gotten," Gilchrist reported. "We started that last year. And last year we had seven communities in Macomb County — I believe there's 27 total — who either issued a proclamation or adopted a resolution declaring June Pride Month. The city of Eastpointe had been the only community prior to our initiative who had adopted a Pride Month resolution."
The eight Macomb County communities that are currently on board with a resolution or proclamation for June 2021 are as follows: Clinton Township, Chesterfield Township, Eastpointe, Mt. Clemens, Roseville, Sterling Heights, Utica and Warren.
"There were some surprises," Gilchrist said. "And I don't want to get real political in it. There was actually very little dissent among the elected bodies that were adopting these resolutions. And so that showed a lot of support for our community here in Macomb County that's not always really apparent."
A boilerplate resolution is available on the Macomb County Pride website. Gilchrist said it's most effective when people from that community reach out to their own elected officials.
Macomb County Pride 2021
Like many Pride celebrations, Macomb County has shifted its to the fall. Slated for Oct. 15 to 17, plans are even more ambitious than in 2020, now that the group is firmly established and has a core group of 10 or so on the planning committee. Once the Mt. Clemens city commission approves the dates, which Gilchrist said should happen soon, they'll move forward.
"Once we receive that approval, we'll publicly release a lot of the details related to the event," Gilchrist said. "We are going to be organizing a pub crawl. The working title is 'Gay Night Out—' I'm not if that'll stick or not — but this is all gonna take place in downtown Mt. Clemens. We'll have the pub crawl on Friday evening, then Saturday afternoon we'll have a street fair and performance lineup at a main stage. And then on Sunday, we're hoping to organize a drag brunch. And we will have a carnival set up for the duration. We're really excited."
Gilchrist was also excited to talk about all the progress Macomb County Pride has made, especially in ways he hadn't anticipated, like regular programming. Forced to regroup and make necessary shifts due to the pandemic, the group appears to be thriving, by all accounts.
"You know, I've been fascinated with what we've been able to do, and kind of where we've been headed," Gilchrist said. "I think it's been an opportunity for us to really provide that space and provide a platform where folks can come together and commune. One of the ways we've been doing that … is our monthly talk show."
The talk show launched a month after this year's Drag-ing in the New Year fundraiser, the video of which is available for viewing on their Facebook page. Now, the first Sunday of the month at 1 p.m., an hour-long talk show features either a representative from an organization that supports the LGBTQ+ community or an individual speaking on a topic of interest.
"We've been really able to highlight a number of different types of resources and organizations that gay people can go to for assistance and support and help, ranging from things like adoption and foster care to sexual assault, to teen resources and opportunities for youth to have some greater community and support," Gilchrist said. "It's been a really wide-ranging platform for us to be able to investigate these other organizations and who they are, and who they are for the LGBTQ+ community. And that's been a lot of fun."
Reflecting on what Macomb County Pride has accomplished thus far and the people he's met along the way, Gilchrist had a few thoughts to share.
"I've met some people in places where I didn't know there was a presence from the LGBTQ community [in Macomb County], Gilchrist said. "I hesitate to say there are communities in these places, though, of our community. It's still very disconnected, and that's partially why Macomb County Pride was established: to help to be more visible and create that community and help people understand they're not alone. We're all here together and there's more of us than they realize."
Learn more about the event online at macombcountypride.com.