UP Rainbow Pride Board Members Sue Holiday, Lee Maki, Megan Foulks, David Shew, Pam Johnson, Jill Malin and Marissa Jayne Wolfe. Photo courtesy of UP Rainbow Pride

Upper Peninsula Celebrates First LGBT Pride Fest

By AJ Trager

MARQUETTE - For the first time in Michigan LGBT history, the UP will be celebrating a pride festival. Discussions about putting together the event started in 2013 when the board of now eight members started meeting. One year later, performances are scheduled, vendors are ready to set up and the Marquette area is ready to celebrate the end of summer on Sept. 6.

"It's a small community. We're here, we're queer and we're in the woods!" UP Rainbow Pride Co-chair Pam Johnson laughed, describing the UP LBGT community.

Gates to Tourist Park open at 11 a.m. with a march from the Marquette Commons to the park, but the main festivities begin at 1 p.m. Attendees will have a chance to bring picnic blankets and pick their desired seat for the Pride performances. The march will be led by Bobby Glenn Brown, a local man who was rejected from his Catholic church after finally completing a commitment ceremony with his partner of 30 years. Brown was told he had to disassociate from his partner and move out of their house in order to continue any previous responsibilities within the Church.

Approximately 20 vendors will be selling their crafts and buttons. The Michigan Democratic Party has confirmed their attendance to the festival as well as Planned Parenthood, T's Taste of Chicago, S&M Buttons, Glass Rainbows and NMU Outlook.

Open mic starts at 2 p.m. Performers will be doing various things like comedy and poetry, with highlighted performances by Double Trouble DJs and eight spectacular Drag performers.

Many of the Northern Michigan LGBT couples have children, and the area is focused on keeping families together. Games and activities including rock painting, a beanbag toss, badminton and more will be provided for the little ones.

"Families are all different ways," Johnson said. "We want everyone to feel comfortable."

Johnson says the community is isolated, so it's hard at times to reach out and try to catch up with other Northern Michigan LGBT. Even with the distance in between, UP Rainbow Pride has heard from groups from Cadillac, Minneapolis and parts of Wisconsin that want to attend the festival.

"We didn't have quite enough funds to pull off a parade in our first year, but we DO have all of Tourist Park in Marquette, MI reserved on Sept. 6th for a day of games, music, a drag show and LGBTQIA-friendly fun in the park," founder and current treasurer of UP Rainbow Pride Marissa, Jayne Wolfe, said. "Additionally, some of the members of our group are scheduled to speak that week at the Marquette city meeting to discuss the proposed LGBT non-discrimination ordinance, the library has declared September Pride Month and we've gotten a lot of positive reception."

The Upper Peninsula has an estimated 311,000 inhabitants, which equates to roughly three percent of the state's population. Marquette is the largest city, with roughly 25 thousand people, and is home to Northern Michigan University.

Northern Michigan doesn't have any gay bars and hosts a very small number of gay-events, Pam Johnson, co-chair of UP Rainbow Pride said, "The community is so small. Everybody knows everybody, but nobody talks to anybody. There is a huge disconnect. We have various groups at Northern, but when Northern isn't in session, neither are the groups."

According to Johnson, the general demeanor is very open unless you get "the backwoods Yooper"--the redneck Yooper. The community has accepted Johnson since she moved back in 2011, and she says it comes down to the fact that if you treat people with respect, then they'll treat you the same.

"Nobody harasses me. I'm from the generation where I got fired for being a dyke, where I got into fights coming out of bars. You had to defend yourself, because someone is going to kick your butt because you're gay," Johnson said. "So far it's becoming more accepted. We are getting more accepted. Through education and talking, I believe that we are becoming more accepted in the community."

The group's Facebook page lists 300 people looking to attend the event, but Johnson is hoping that upwards of 700 will be in attendance. The group chose to wait until September to hold their Pride event, instead of celebrating in June, so that the Northern college students could attend and openly share their love with the community.

UP Rainbow Pride will be held in Tourist Park located at 2145 Sugarloaf Ave., Marquette. The festival is free to attend. There is lodging both for those who want to camp or for those who prefer the luxury of a hotel.

Call 906-228-0465 to schedule your evening reservation or for more information on UP Rainbow Pride. Visit their event website at http://www.uprainbowpride.com/.
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