Arts & Entertainment
Come Out, Help Out
OUTFest Returns To Support Washtenaw County LGBT Community
By Jerome Stuart Nichols
Originally printed 9/12/2013 (Issue 2137 - Between The Lines News)
For a long time, coming out as gay or lesbian was seen as a statement of political defiance. But in a post-"It Gets Better" world, the idea of coming out as an important political statement seems a bit antiquated. Many people forget Matthew Shepard's death was just 15 years ago. While the gay right has made many strides towards equality, visibility remains as important as ever.
"As marriage equality spreads across the country, one of the most significant factors is whether or not somebody knows a gay person," said Keith Orr, co-proprietor of aut BAR in Ann Arbor and a founding organizer of National Coming Out Day celebration OUTFest. "That is coming to fruition - this whole idea of the importance of coming out. To this day, it remains an important thing. It's something to both celebrate and encourage."
OUTFest, which kicks off at 5 p.m. on Sept. 28 at Braun Court in Ann Arbor, began as an idea to create a celebration in honor of National Coming Out Day. As time rolled on, it became an annual celebration of community and progress. It also serves as a major fundraiser for Ann Arbor's Jim Toy Community Center, one of the best and most used resources for Washtenaw County's LGBT community.
In terms of Michigan LGBT community visibility, few people have had as big of an impact as Jim Toy. The same could be said of his namesake community center, which serves as a home for numerous LGBT community groups. For youth, those in recovery and other people outside the mainstream LGBT community, these community groups are an invaluable resource.
"We don't live in a post gay world yet - not even here in liberal Ann Arbor," Orr said. "In Washtenaw County we have some excellent youth programs for the general population. It's really important that the LGBT youth have a space that they're comfortable in."
"Neutral Zone runs a really excellent program, Riot Youth. Yet, when they come over to Braun Court, there's something about it. For them it's like, 'Wow, this is all our space. This is truly a queer space.'"
Although proceeds from the event go to a good cause, OUTfest is mostly a celebration. While there'll be a silent auction and a place to give donations, visitors can also attend the free event simply to enjoy the three-hour Necto dance party, beer garden and drag show.
"It's a celebration of gay pride and outness," said Terry McGinn, former president and current JTCC board member. "Fall is a great time of the year in Ann Arbor ... school, football, energy (is) in the air. This is an opportunity, in the midst of that type of environment, to celebrate being LGBT."