By BJ Reichert Special to In Between The Lines
MUSKEGON – A continuous rainstorm didn’t prevent more than 30 people from gathering on the beach Sunday to celebrate Muskegon’s first Gay Pride event.
Earlier in the day, organizers discussed canceling the gathering at Pere Marquette Park, but after some discussion, they agreed history would have to be made in the rain. Being a first-time event, co-chairman Rich Nelson wasn’t sure what kind of turnout to expect.
As he and others set up beach chairs and umbrellas in a steady rain, the first cars arrived. Within minutes, the south end of Pere Marquette beach was lined with vehicles, mostly strangers who gathered in a gesture of community.
They came alone, in pairs or in small groups. Many were gay or lesbian. Some were straight. Ages ranged from teenagers to men in their 70s. They huddled under hand-held umbrellas, which quickly made strangers into new friends.
“I couldn’t believe the turnout, especially in light of the rain,” Nelson said. “We were very surprised.”
As the rain fell, the group huddled closer together. As newcomers arrived, they were handed umbrellas by men and women who simply pulled up their hoods or let the rain beat down on their faces. Attendees passed bite-sized desserts, shared stories of success and discrimination, and laughed easily.
Nelson said he was surprised and pleased.
“With our initial expectations, we would have been happy with 20 people,” he said. “We exceeded that, even with a lousy beach day. If it had been a perfect beach day, it would have been over 50.”
Nelson sees the determined response as indicative of a yearning for gays and lesbians to form a more cohesive community in Muskegon.
“Just the response says people want more, people are looking for something in addition to our already strong bar scene,” he said.
Tom Wolfram, board president of the Lesbian and Gay Community Network of Western Michigan, spent Saturday toiling in an oppressive 95-degree heat as part of West Michigan Pride at John Ball Park in Grand Rapids. On Sunday, he stood on a much cooler Pere Marquette Beach.
“I came to Muskegon to lend my support,” he said. “It’s great to see this many people standing in the rain.”
To get involved in upcoming LGBT events in Muskegon, contact Nelson at [email protected].