“God is separate from our political system,” Rev. Kent Lederer told a record 63 gay couples and an estimate crowd of 1,500 people Saturday on the steps of the state capitol. “He/She/It loves us no matter what.”
Lederer, the minister of Unity of Greater Lansing, officiated over the holy union of the 63 couples as part of the Michigan Equality Rally.
“True commitment is more than the joining of two people,” Lederer said. “In its right relationship it is the uniting of two souls who are already attuned to each other.”
Following an eight-minute ceremony where the couples exchanged vows, Lederer announced, “I now recognize and acknowledge your holy union and I now pronounce you life partners.
“You may seal it with a kiss,” he said to screams, applause and some tears of joys.
The commitment ceremony and rally were part of the 20th anniversary Michigan Pride celebration and festival in Lansing. The annual event is, like many other pride events around the country, held to remember and celebrate the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City. The riots happened when police raided a gay bar in the Village, and as bar patrons were being lead out to the arrest bus, bystanders began throwing bricks. This riot is considered the birth of the modern gay rights movement.
Michigan Pride was held on June 28 – exactly 39 years to the day since Stonewall. The event garnered a “conservatively” estimated paid crowd of 9,500 people at Riverfront Park, according to Michigan Pride secretary Donna Brown.
Following the commitment ceremony, Michigan Equality hosted speeches from Santiago Lopez, program associate for the Arcus Foundation of Kalamazoo; Julie Nemecek, a nationally-recognized transgender activist from Spring Arbor; Detroit based author, artist and activist Michelle Brown; and Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the LGBT Legal Project of the ACLU Michigan.
“One is the magic number,” Lopez told the crowd in a seven-minute speech set to music. “It took one drag queen who finally had enough and started that riot at the Stonewall Inn.
“But you know movements are not ushered in with a piece of legislation,” Lopez told the crowd, “but with the power of one. One person who said ‘I need to get involved. I need to do it. I’m not going to stand by and take this any longer.’ Rosa Parks, Gandhi – for that matter Jesus Christ – didn’t stand by and wait for somebody else to take care of the situation.”
Lopez told the crowd they did not have to stand in front of a crowd and give a speech. Instead, they could lick stamps and stuff envelopes, or they could effect change by living life as themselves. “You are a beautiful creation with all your laughter, all your heart, your compassion and your love… Let them (those who oppose LBGT rights) experience you in all your varied contradictions… baffle them, love them – even if they don’t have the capacity to love you.”
He also told the crowd that change happens by coming together and building community. “If you don’t see what you what you want to be doing happening out there somewhere,” Lopez said, “don’t stand by idly and wait for somebody else to make it happen. Do it yourself… Don’t wait for change to happen, make change happen.”
Following Lopez was Julie Nemecek, who gained national attention two years ago when she came out as transgender to Spring Arbor University, a conservative Christian university in southern mid-Michigan. Nemecek, who is an ordained Baptist minister, was dismissed from the university teaching staff and from her administrative duties.
Nemecek spoke of the ‘winds of change’ sweeping across America.
“But in some states you can barely feel the winds, and Michigan is one of them,” Nemecek said. “But soon, very soon, that wind will come roaring through Michigan like an Oklahoma twister. The winds of change will come to Michigan.”
Detroit resident Michelle Brown followed Nemecek. The author, activist and artist spoke of coming together as a community.
“It’s only in June, in pride, that we come together on our capitol steps to (show) that we are not just gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer… we are Michigan,” she said. “We will not be marginalized.”
“I do have the audicity of Hope,” said Jay Kaplan from the ACLU. “We have a lot to celebrate this year, despite set backs… We have the opportunity to change the face of our Michigan Supreme Court… we have to get out to the polls and cast our votes and change that landscape… We need to celebrate the possibilities and the future, because it is looking great for us.”