By Sarah Mieras
GRAND RAPIDS –
West Michigan Pride is all grown up and moving out on its own. After 20 years of operations under the umbrella of the Gay and Lesbian Network, the Grand Rapids based festival is slated to become its own organization.
But not before it pulls off another Pride festival befitting of the state’s second largest city. The festival will return again this year to John Ball Park Zoo on the City’s West Side for events from 2 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, June 21.
For its 20th anniversary celebration organizers have lined up a variety of special events including the Great Lakes Marching Band, a grand entrance by the Lambda Car Club, drag bingo, a DJ contest, square dancing lessons, carnival games and plenty of diverse live entertainment.
“It will be free-wheeling, carnival-atmosphere fun. We wanted to create a carnival atmosphere. So we encouraged our booths to have carnival games,” said event Chair Mike Mello.
To avoid getting a gaming license, both the carnival games and the bingo will be played by donation, and winners will take home carnival style prizes. The games, live entertainment and the park setting, said Mello, will hopefully keep people at the festival longer to make connections with the educational non profit booths.
Other changes for the 20th anniversary include more variety in vendor booths and a punched up graphic and branding campaign. The group’s new graphic designer, Ric Nelson, hopes people will take notice of the stylized waves gracing the T-shirts and Pride Guides.
“I hope it will make an impression on people, show them that we are growing up and trying to do better all the time,” said Nelson.
Next year the branding will continue with an improved Internet presence and a new domain —Êhttp://www.westmipride.org.
With annual attendance at about 4,000 people, West Michigan Pride is branching out on its own, drafting its Articles of Incorporation to become separate from its longtime host The Network. The change, said Mello, will improve the Festival’s general operations.
“It will allow us to operate with greater speed and flexibility, and The Network can continue to focus on its core mission.”
The Pride Partners model that has served as the backbone of the event will remain in place. To ensure that the event reflects the diversity of the community groups, ranging from the Southwest Michigan Bears to local churches have a stake in the Festival’s planning, execution, and profits.
“What we try to create is a 360-degree view of the community. I think what we achieve is closer than what some other prides do,” said Mello. “And the profits from our Pride go back to our pride partner organizations. So, it’s in their best interest to make pride successful, because if it is successful they will benefit from it.”
For the first time this year West Michigan Pride also jumped on the corporate sponsor bandwagon, bringing in funds from community based businesses like Comerica Bank. With a price tag of roughly $25,000, Mello said funding is critical to the growth of the event, and the amount of money the festival pumps back into the LGBT community.
The more we can get larger, mainstream companies to put there names out there, we add greater exposure and visibility to the issues that are important to our community,” said Mello. “And, when people attend pride and see these corporate name behind it they realize there is a larger community that supports us.”
Although it takes money to put on an event, social justice remains at the heart of West Michigan Pride.
“I’ve seen the progress we have made from when you didn’t say the word ‘gay.’ And I can see how much more progress we need to make. I hope I am helping,” said committee member Ron Rosengern.
West Michigan Pride Schedule:
Saturday, June 21
John Ball Park, Grand Rapids
2:00 Opening Ceremony
2:30 Commitment Ceremony
3:00 Great Lakes Pride Band
3:30 Talent Showcase
4:00 Grand River Squares
4:30 Drag show
5:30 Grand River Renegades
5:40 Ben Walter
6:40 Grand River Renegades
6:50 Dance Breakout
7:50 Ryan Mintz
8:20 Grand River Renegades
8:30 Drag show