Detroit looked markedly more colorful last weekend as it bustled with thousands of people clad in all manner of rainbow flags on their way to attend Motor City Pride 2019 in Hart Plaza. Host to over 50,000, the event featured performances by drag greats like Sabin and Ongina, showcased local artists like Tunde Olaniran and brought in nationally known musical acts like Greyson Chance. Vendor attendance was high, too. For the first time in the event’s history, Dave Wait, the chair of the festival’s planning committee, said that vendor booths were booked solid a month in advance.
“Participation and interest in the festival just continues to grow each year as more people come out to support equality and to recognize each other,” he said. “And to come together to make sure that we are working toward full equality with the passage of Elliott-Larsen and other initiatives out in the state and national level.”
Attendee Alison Phelps said that the size of Motor City Pride was what motivated her to visit this year.
“I’ve been to a couple of different Prides, but I’ve never been to this one; it’s the biggest one in Michigan and I wanted to go [because of that],” she said. “And I’m also the GSA adviser in Oakland and the GSA adviser for the school that I teach at. I wanted to be able to tell them about what goes on at Pride.”
When asked why she felt Pride was important to her she said it’s Pride’s ability to draw people out of their shells.
“I think it’s important because a lot of times people are sort of isolated; they are only LGBTQ+ person that they know and that can be very depressing and cause a lot of problems. So, just the fact that people can see that there are other people out there like them and meet them is cool,” she said, adding that its political origins are valuable, too. “I also think that the 50th anniversary of Stonewall is important to remember and that it was a protest and that it’s still going on and that we still have things to do politically speaking.”
And the weekend certainly had proof of the ongoing struggle to secure rights in the LGBTQ community. On Saturday, a group of roughly a 10 neo-Nazi protestors made an appearance in an attempt to disrupt the day’s celebrations and a separate group of religious protestors appeared on Sunday. Wait said that despite the appearance of these groups, they failed in their goal to tear down the celebrations of the LGBTQ community.
“It was 10 people with their hate speech who were just overshadowed by the 50,000 who came out to support equality and each other,” he said. “The protestors, they failed on so many counts. They failed to get into the festival, they failed to stop our participants, they failed to frighten us — people came out on Sunday to the parade because of our support for one another. So, they failed on all levels.”
For some people in attendance, this visible outward support and celebration of the progress made in the 50th year after the Stonewall Riots was made even more special as it was their first time attending Pride in general.
“I’m the ‘L’ in LGBTQ and this is my very first pride,” Courtney W. said. “Basically, we just wanted to hang out and have fun with our people.”
Leah Bordo said she went to Pride because of her friend Kyle.
“He came out last month and I’m super proud of him and Pride is something that I’ve always been interested in going to and the fact that I had someone to share it with this year is really exciting,” she said.
Bordo added that until equality exists for everyone in the LGBTQ community, she views Pride as a valuable way to call attention to and drive positive change surrounding LGBTQ issues.
“Equality doesn’t exist for everyone yet, and I’d like to try and support that in any way I can and to move that forward at Pride,” she said. “And the more numbers we have, the safer we are and the more likely we’re able to do something actively in our community.”
Beyond LGBTQ-specific nonprofits, Pride had many allied vendors in attendance in support of the LGBTQ community. In one booth were members of the Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. Handing out pamphlets of LGBTQ-friendly doctors at the MSU booth was Abby Cook who emphasized the value of physicians who recognize that equality matters in medicine.
“We just wanted to show the LGBT community that there are future positions that are looking out for them and we’re not going to turn someone away because they’re gay or treat them differently,” Cook said. “We also think that it’s really important for the LGBT community to know that there are physicians that think of them as equals but also for future doctors to get involved with this sort of thing to give them a broader perspective on things.”
Cook added that short of full, curriculum-wide changes to include LGBTQ-specific medicine, it’s worthwhile to use events like Motor City Pride to raise awareness about these issues.
Pridegoer Jerome Fulton agreed.
“I’m a proud, gay man and I came out to celebrate amongst my other fellow queer brothers and sisters. It’s a great time to do it, we’ve been persecuted a lot lately so any reason to celebrate our Pride [is important],” Fulton said. “It’s important because not too long ago it was illegal to be gay, so just to celebrate the fact that we can be out, loud and proud is a true achievement.”
Grace Bacon is a U.S. Army veteran and an example of someone who has lived to see the scope of that achievement. She was wearing a shirt that said: “Transgender Veteran: I fought for your right to hate me” and said she loves attending Pride because of what it symbolizes.
“I’m a part of the community, especially the trans community. I came out in 1976 and in 1977 I put Crossroads together. At the present time, all of the transgender groups in Michigan are kind of indirectly my responsibility,” she said, adding that being in a non-judgmental space is important. “It’s being with other people like myself, mixing with people, seeing everybody, it’s a good feeling; this is where I belong. And it’s a nice feeling to know that nobody is going to get on your case.”
Pride Chair Wait said that hearing stories like the ones at Pride this year and from years before is what motivates him to keep putting on the event annually.
“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.”