The first time the Progress Pride Flag art installation at Eastpointe's Spindler Park was taken down, it was due to a miscommunication. The next time (and the next time), it was due to vandalism. The silver lining might be that the incidents have revealed a groundswell of LGBTQA+ support in Eastpointe that had been less apparent.
Alysa Diebolt, chair of the City of Eastpointe Arts and Cultural Diversity Commission, explains the volunteer group's approach: "The ACDC wanted to celebrate Pride in a safe way, which is difficult and tricky to do when you're a volunteer group, and there's still a pandemic going on and the data's changing over time," said Diebolt. "So an idea that we had was to do this [fence] installation."
After receiving unanimous approval from the parks commission, ACDC installed its Pride Flag display on a fence at the entrance to Spindler Park on May 30. The following day, unaware the group had permission to do so, a city contractor took it down.
Diebolt pointed to two Facebook posts (here and here) explaining the miscommunication. Most commenters were supportive, though a few weren't. These posts and other coverage of the removal and subsequent reinstallation of the display drew the attention of detractors to the artwork — attention the display might not have otherwise received.
On June 2, ACDC added a sign explaining the installation and who was responsible for it. Since then, that sign has been torn down and subsequently replaced by ACDC on at least two occasions.
As of this writing, a portion of the flag was removed, but the plastic pieces were found in a bag in a dumpster. ACDC, once again, affixed the pieces to the fence.
A new era for LGBTQ+ Pride in Eastpointe
Diebolt has lived in Eastpointe for almost 10 years. An artist by trade and an ally by nature, she explained the commission created the piece using square, plastic "cups" designed to be affixed to a chain-link fence and are often used to display school spirit. The commission chose the Progress Pride Flag design because, Diebolt said, "It's the most representative and inclusive of the full community."
"Some of these first steps of doing the Pride Month resolution and the flag on a fence installation are great first steps to making sure that the LGBT+ members of our community feel affirmed, first, and welcome and accepted in Eastpointe and from all of Eastpointe," Diebolt added.
In what is thought to be a first for a community in Macomb County, the city adopted a resolution declaring June Pride Month in 2019. Since then, the majority of the city council has renewed their commitment each year.
Eastpointe has led the way on these public displays of support — seven other Macomb County communities followed suit this year with the help of the Macomb County Pride Initiative, where Diebolt also volunteers.
That's not to say that LGBTQ+ allyship is a given in Eastpointe. Mayor Monique Owens has consistently been in the minority by voting against a resolution. According to Diebolt, there was little discussion this year.
In the past, Owens explained her opposition by asserting she didn't believe in "making distinctions between people." In addition to Owens' "no" vote this year, council member Sylvia Moore abstained while the other three council members voted in favor.
Unexpected community support
It seems every time ACDC patiently repairs the Pride Flag display, another act of vandalism occurs. It's a tug of war the commission intends to win. If the outpouring of community support is any indication, they stand a good chance.
Diebolt herself has spent a significant amount of time creating and recreating the display, an act many in the community clearly appreciate. "Easily, every single time when I've been there fixing something, someone has stopped, pulled over, rolled down their window and said, 'This looks amazing, this is great, thank you for putting it back up, we love this,'" Diebolt said.
She appreciates this tangible outpouring of support. "You don't always get [it]," she said. She explained that it's just not always something that happens, especially when things aren't entirely back to normal, thanks to the pandemic. "We can't do anything fun in person quite yet, or we don't want to quite yet," she said.
The Progress Pride Flag installation, Diebolt said, was "the best way to get that reinforcement from the community, and absolutely, hands down, there's been leaps and bounds more support than folks saying negative things."
Diebolt believes feeling affirmed and welcome are especially important for the youth of the city.
"For me, it's hugely important, and I think that's why we loved doing this flag on a park fence, that young people feel it — that young people can see that this city group of volunteers put up a Pride flag for the month of June," she said.
"And if a single person, [a] teenager, sees that and smiles and they feel good about that, I think that is worth all of the nonsense that we've gone through."