Queer Things to Do: Celebrate Hotter Than July!

Sarah Bricker Hunt

It all started in 1996, when LGBT Detroit launched the first annual Hotter Than July event. Today, Hotter Than July (HTJ) holds the title as the world’s second oldest Black LGBTQ+ Pride. Thousands of participants are expected at the 2023 event, set for July 14-16 in various locations. Join the festivities, including a celebration at Palmer Park on July 15 from 9-2 p.m., where you can win tickets to the Hotter Than July Big Freedia concert that night. The Palmer Park event features Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, music, a twerking contest and more. Learn about the other HTJ events below.

1. Light a Candle in Honor of Our LGBTQ+ Ancestors

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HTJ’s Candlelight Vigil, held on the first evening of the event, is an opportunity to reflect on those who have lost their lives to hate crimes, HIV/AIDS or other forms of discrimination and health disparities. Attendees are invited to submit a loved one’s name to be shared at the memorial tribute, where, LGBT Detroit says, “ancestors will be called in remembrance and uplifted in prayer.” Submissions can be made at

July 14, 5:30 p.m., Palmer Park (910 Merrill Plaisance St., Detroit)

2. HTJ Book Festival Featuring the Late Essex Hemphill

After the Candlelight Vigil, join a lively tribute to writer Essex Hemphill and a panel discussion focused on banned books at HTJ’s Book Festival. The event, in partnership with Pen America, “sheds light on the ongoing challenges faced by authors whose works have been censored or banned due to their provocative content or controversial themes,” according to information from HTJ. Hemphill was one such author. An openly gay poet and activist who died in 1995 from AIDS-related complications, he was known for openly discussing issues important to the Black gay community. 

Attendees are encouraged to bring Black- and Brown-focused LGBTQ+ written works to start building the LGBT Detroit Library. Register at

July 14, 8 p.m., LGBT Detroit Marvin Lee Building (20021 Greenfield Road, Detroit)

3. Bounce with Big Freedia at the HTJ Concert

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New Orleans’ “Queen of Bounce” Big Freedia will headline the second annual HTJ concert on Saturday, July 15. It’s difficult to categorize the lively performer, who has collaborated with artists like Lizzo, Drake and Beyoncé (who sampled Big Freedia on “Break My Soul”), and Big Freedia is definitely OK with that. . Freedia told The Root in 2020, “How do I identify? I do not mind if you call me ‘he’ or ‘she.’ Both are right! Although some of my early influences were the drag queens of New Orleans (including my uncle), I don’t wear dresses or high heels. I was born male and remain male — physically, hormonally and mentally. But I am a gay male. Some folks insist I have to be trans, but I don’t agree. I’m gender nonconforming, fluid, nonbinary. If I had known the ‘queen’ in Queen Diva would cause so much confusion, I might have called myself the king!”

July 15, 8 p.m., Sound Board at Motor City Casino Hotel (2901 Grand River Ave., Detroit). Tickets at

4. Sunday Worship Service

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HTJ invites the community to “join hands with like-minded individuals who share a common vision of acceptance and love” at the annual worship service. “Come as you are,” HTJ press materials read, “and be inspired by a community that celebrates the beautiful tapestry of God’s creation.” The service kicks off at 10:30 a.m. at One Church Detroit and will feature opportunities for prayer in community, a Praise Dance, a solo by local entertainer Cierra Dior Malone and a sermon titled “What’s Love Got to Do With It” delivered by Pastor Jeffrey M. Seals. Stick around for a free luncheon service after the event. 

July 16, 10:30 a.m., One Church Detroit (19185 Wyoming St., Detroit).

5. Honor the 2023 HTJ Awards Winners Over Brunch

The HTJ annual awards ceremony honors community members who have made significant contributions through acts of service. “The Hotter Than July Honors Brunch is a time when LGBT Detroit celebrates the contributions of those who have made a significant impact in the lives of Black and Brown LGBT+ people. This year, we lift up three extraordinary women who are not only friends to LGBT Detroit but partners in carrying out our mission,” LGBT Detroit Social Justice Engineer Jerron Totten told Pride Source. 

July 16, 1 p.m., The Charlevoix Gallery (14505 Charlevoix Ave., Detroit). Reserve tickets at

HTJ will honor three award winners. Shannay Watson-Whittaker will receive the Erma Henderson Civic Award, named for Detroit’s first African American woman elected as City Council President. Watson-Whittaker, who has held several key political and government roles, served as the deputy campaign manager of the successful Michigan Reproductive Freedom For All campaign, which worked to enshrine reproductive freedom in Michigan. 

Julisa Abad will be honored with The Cornelius Wilson Community Service Award, named in honor of Wilson, the Men Of Color founder and community advocate. Abad is an outspoken LGBTQ+ advocate, especially on issues impacting the transgender community, including housing, education, victim assistance, health care and violence reduction. 

The Barbara Murray HIV Service Award, named for the renowned HIV/AIDS advocate, will be awarded to Chunnika Hodges, chair of the Ryan White Part D Community Advisory Group. Hodges works tirelessly for people living with HIV in Detroit and beyond, advocating for patient needs and raising awareness about the complexities of the disease. “To be recognized by LGBT Detroit for Barbara Murray HIV Service Award is like life coming full circle,” Hodges says. “I say this because almost 15 years ago, Mrs. Barbara Murray provided me with my first opportunity to become employed in the field of HIV as an Early Intervention Specialist at AIDS Partnership Michigan now known as Unified HIV Health and Beyond. Although I do not do this work for the accolades, it does feel good to be seen and recognized by your community and peers.”


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