It's the state's biggest Pride festival and this year it's bigger than ever. Motor City Pride takes place Saturday, June 8, and Sunday, June 9, in downtown Detroit's riverfront Hart Plaza.
"The plans are going well for the festival," said Dave Wait, chair of the Motor City Pride planning committee. "The initial interest has been higher than ever. Our exhibit booths sold out in May – and they have never previously sold out before the festival. We have several new sponsors that are helping us to plan a packed schedule of entertainment. And the parade has several new entries. All of this activity indicates that we will have another great year."
The LGBTQ Flag Flies High
Motor City Pride technically started on Wednesday morning with the annual LGBT Pride flag-raising ceremony. Though in previous years the flag has flown in the same plaza as the event, this year the flag will fly in Spirit Plaza, in front of the Coleman A. Young City County Building.
"This prominent location will connect the festival with the city and will allow someone that is not attending the festival see that the City of Detroit is a strong supporter of equal rights," Wait said.
New to the festival this year will be a sports component.
"We know that our community has a wide range of interests, so we are adding," Wait said. "We are looking for more people to display pieces of art on one of the walkways at Hart Plaza. Motor City Pride is also branching out and adding sports activities as part of the festival. This year will have a three-on-three basketball tournament on June 8, with plans to add other sports next year. Plus, the Pistons and Red Wings are also participating in the parade."
This year's festival is designed to offer something for everyone. There will be a family friendly area open both days from 1 to 5 p.m. The area will feature face painting, dinosaur bone digs, game and other activities. For those wanting a quieter Pride experience, the Riverfront Patio offer an area to relax, enjoy the riverfront and listen to great music with a beverage in hand.
"The only real challenge this year is fitting in all of the new vendors and sponsors," Wait said. "This challenge will provide new opportunities for our community to connect with even more organizations and companies that support equality."
Wait said his favorite part of Pride is meeting people who haven't attended it before because it reminds him of the value of the event.
"It moves me when I hear their stories and am grateful to be able to participate on this team that provides a welcoming space for people to be their authentic selves," he said.
Performance Highlight: Ongina
But the star of the show, for many at least, are those of the actual shows that'll be at the event.
"We pride ourselves on being able to provide five areas of entertainment," Wait said. "All of these stages allow our entertainment team to assemble a great mix of acts from around the U.S. to perform, with both up and coming and veteran performers. The schedule offers a wide variety of genres with something to appeal to everyone."
One of the most exciting acts scheduled to appear is Ongina. The onstage persona of Filipino American Ryan Ong Palao, Ongina appeared on the very first season of "RuPaul's Drag Race" back in 2009. Ongina touched many across the world when she revealed in the fourth episode that she was HIV-positive.
"The response was received very well," Ongina told Between The Lines. "There were a few negative things and at first it would affect me really badly. But I grew a thicker skin and I know that my coming out, which I did for myself due to winning that challenge and being overwhelmed with emotions, gives other inspiration. Still, to this day, I receive messages about how that has helped others."
Sadly, Ongina would go home in the following episode after losing a "Lip Sync for Your Life" challenge to Bebe Zahara Benet, who went on to win the competition. At the time she filmed Drag Race, Ongina said she and other competitors had no idea the low-budget show would go on to become a cultural phenomenon and a decade later, after a switch from LOGO to VH1, earn an Emmy for the category of Outstanding Reality Competition Program along with a few more for RuPaul's role as host.
Currently, season 11 of the show just wrapped. There have also been three All-Stars seasons as well.
"We, including the producers, had no idea [the show would become such a hit]," Ongina said. "But I'm so glad it is now mainstream because the show truly spreads love. RuPaul is an amazing icon and his successes are well-deserved.
"Season 1 was raw," Ongina continued. "Yes, content was edited to make an exciting TV show, but I think the show has evolved to something more. While they continue to make an entertaining TV show, it has also touched on many life issues with queens sharing their personal adversities and experiences which reaches behind the LGBT community. The show has also evolved in terms of competition and I think it's much, much harder now than season one."
Ongina said she credits the show with helping her become a true, professional drag queen.
"It has also helped me advocate for HIV and AIDS, which we continue to find a cure for," she said. "Though accidental from my 'coming out,' I'm happy to use that moment as a platform to educate others about what it's like to be a gay drag queen minority living with the virus."
Ongina is currently involved in an amfAR campaign called Epic Voices. It seeks to find a cure by 2030 and reengage the conversation about the virus."
While her success on the show has allowed her to travel all over, Ongina said that performing at Prides is one of her biggest thrills.
"I love pride festivals," she said. "I believe the biggest I've ever done were Montreal and San Francisco. They were super nerve-wracking but amazing! The people are out there to celebrate being proud LGBT human beings and they are joined by their allies. The energy is so amazing, and I just feed off that."
Ongina will be performing on the Pride Stage Saturday at 3 p.m. For more information on Motor City Pride and other performers, visit motorcitypride.com.