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In 2013, a small group of dedicated Michiganders gathered at a restaurant in the Upper Peninsula with a singular vision: The UP’s first Pride festival. Today, U.P. Rainbow Pride is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and they’re going strong, with four Pride Fest celebrations under their belt and a fifth one planned for Saturday, Sept. 15 in Marquette.
“We try to keep doing different kinds of events and fundraisers,” said David Shew, chairperson of U.P. Rainbow Pride. “We just raised money for hospice not too long ago, just anything to keep the community alive, to keep everyone happy and knowing that there is a LGBT community out here.”
For this year’s Pride Fest, Shew is expecting at least 1,500 attendees. The event is always held at Tourist Park, and part of the location’s appeal is that it’s on a campground where many people make the Fest a weekendlong event. A drag show, a performance by a deaf poet and kid-friendly activities are some of the highlights planned for this year’s festival. Organizations slated to have booths at the event include Equality Michigan, Planned Parenthood and the Democratic Party.
The Fest’s popularity seems to be a significant positive shift in the general UP community’s attitudes toward an LGBTQ-inclusive environment. Because while Marquette, the largest city in the UP and home to Marquette University, is responsible for passing the first inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance in the UP in 2015, Shew explained that the challenges that LGBTQ people face up north are still very real.
“It’s very difficult to be out in the UP,” he said. There’s no organizations besides us. There’s no [gay] bars, there’s no restaurants, no nothing up here. So everything is very closed and very closeted. It’s very hard, especially for the young people. … There’s still a lot of prejudice up here about gay people.”
Just as there are struggles, however, Shew said that there is much positive reception the organization gets at the local Fourth of July parade each year. Many members of the LGBTQ community have come to expect cheers, applause and standing ovations just for being who they are.
Shew, who moved to a cabin in tiny Arnold Township from a farming town outside Ann Arbor 10 years ago, spoke about the board, and their long-term plans.
“All of us on the board, we’re all volunteers,” he said. “There’s only five of us doing all of this. There’s a lot of work, (but) it’s also very rewarding. We’re just trying to make a difference. And we are.”
Ultimately, a physical community center is the group’s dream, and it’s getting closer to becoming a reality as the organization negotiates with a local TV station about sponsorship. Shew said that he envisions “a place where people can go and hang out, and a safe place to be, to be around other gay people.”
As for this year’s Pride Fest, Shew extends a warm invitation to the entire LGBTQ community in the Lower Peninsula, too. But first, he would like to dispel a few myths.
“There’s a lot of people downstate that view people up here as kind of backwards — the entire ‘Yooper’ thing,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on in the UP and it’s beautiful, and it’s relaxing and people are friendly, and we want everybody down there to come to Pride Fest.”
Pride Fest will be held Saturday, September 15 from noon to 10 p.m. at Tourist Park, 2145 Sugar Loaf Ave., Marquette. For more information on Pride Fest and U.P. Rainbow Pride visit uprainbowpride.org.