Motor City Pride celebrated its new location at Detroit's Hart Plaza this past weekend. BTL photo: Andrew Potter.

Motor City Pride draws more than 44,000

Festival celebrates success back in the 'D'

By Tara Cavanaugh

With its move from a suburb to a city, more days and a bigger space, everyone wondered: Would Motor City Pride be a success?

You bet.

"People were showing up before the gates opened," said Michael Gregor, communications director at Equality Michigan, the nonprofit that organized the festival.

More than 44,000 people attended the June 4-5 festival. Attendees traveled from as far as Pittsburg to take in the performances, dance parties, family activities, booths and exhibitors in Detroit's Hart Plaza.

"This was really an immense opportunity for gay and transgender people to come together with friends and family to celebrate who they are," said festival chair Dave Wait.

The festival also helped raise money for Equality Michigan, a statewide organization working to achieve full equality for Michigan's LGBT community. A $5 donation was requested at the two gates, and even though the nonprofit doesn't have a final count yet, "it's safe to say we're happy with the donations and we're happy with the sponsorships we received," Gregor said.

This money will go toward the nonprofit's work, said Denise Brogan-Kator, its interim executive director, who reminded attendees that the festival was more than just a party.

"Michiganders can still be fired, evicted or denied services because someone thinks they're gay," she said. "Gay and lesbian couples cannot marry who they fall in love with and enjoy the legal benefits of marriage. It's time for Lansing to wake up and say that Michigan will treat its citizens fairly."

This message was not lost on the many booths who work on behalf of Michigan's LGBTs, such as Affirmations Community Center from Ferndale, Unity Michigan and even President Obama's 2012 campaign, which was registering voters for next year's presidential election and passing out information about Obama's work for the LGBT community.

"Pride festivals affirm that we are not alone - which is especially important when gay and transgender people face so many challenges in Michigan," Wait said "This is the weekend when we can come out, be who we are and work together to make our region more welcoming."

Home sweet home?

So does Motor City Pride feel at home in Detroit?

"As a Detroiter I'm excited the events are in the center of the metropolitan area," said Julianna Rivera, a first-time festivalgoer. "It brings together people from all these different regions."

"I like the way it's spread out," said London Bell, Affirmation's health and human services coordinator as she was manning the center's booth. "I would definitely come next year."

Rachel Crandall, the director of Transgender Michigan, said even though the festival turned out wonderfully, it would take a while for Motor City Pride to truly feel at home in Detroit and for the transgender community to fully embrace it.

"Unfortunately for this year I think we lost a lot of people. Honestly. It's not to say we don't love this," she said, gesturing to the sunny Hart Plaza. "I think it's going to take a few years of no incidents for me to relax."

There were no security problems in Hart Plaza over the weekend, Gregor said. "I was very impressed by the city and the police department and our private security team. Everything went really smoothly.

"Hart Plaza and downtown are definitely destinations for a lot of big crowds. So the authorities know how to deal with crowds and how to keep people safe."

Gregor was also surprised and pleased by the amount of first-time festivalgoers. "We drew in a lot of people who had never come to a Pride event before. And that was really exciting. A lot of families, a lot of young people who had not gone to Motor City Pride in the past or had not gone to something like this in years."

For 16-year-old Kayla Ferill, her first Motor City Pride experience was worth repeating, despite her worries about parking downtown. "Once you get here, it's fun," she said, relaxing with a friend in the shade. She said this weekend was bigger and more exciting than last year's Michigan Pride in Lansing, but she wished Motor City Pride's parade lasted longer.

Gregor agreed that the parade was small, but a good start: "We'll be able to make that bigger next year," he said, and that goes for the entire festival, too: "I expect that it will just get bigger next year, in terms of more sponsors participating, and in terms of more artists," Gregor said.

One person who wouldn't change a thing about the festival was Melissa Spears, who showed up in knee-high fuzzy blue boots (despite temperatures in the 80s) and glittery eye shadow. Well, she does have one suggestion: "If we could get RuPaul here next year, that would be amazing."

For more information on Motor City Pride, go to http://motorcitypride.org.

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