Published: June 1, 2011
Those who attended the first of many gay-pride marches in Michigan will remember Detroit as the city where it all began. And now, the patrons of the street fair known as Motor City Pride can finally and gratefully reflect on their roots and heritage — but not without some controversy among its organizers.
"This is a way for us to honor our tradition and to support the city core," says Detroit resident Michael Gregory, the director of communications for the LGBT advocacy group Equality Michigan, the organizers of MCP. "The movement started here in Detroit and it is going to be both fun and positive to bring it back."
Seizing an opportunity to grow and expand, the pride celebration will be stationed in the city's spacious festival area at Hart Plaza this weekend, June 4-5, and will feature two days of musical entertainment and local vendors in support of gay pride and equality.
Of course, the event will also host the march that started the movement in 1986, right downtown on Woodward Avenue, marking the 25th anniversary for all pride festivals in the state of Michigan.
Yet why move the festival now, after it has been held in Oakland County for nearly 18 years?
Gregory chalks it up to the growth of the LGBT civil rights movement.
"We've definitely seen massive growth in terms of the number of people getting involved with the gay and transgender struggle for equality in Southeast Michigan," he says. "That, with the addition of more sponsors, we knew that we would eventually outgrow the space that we were in."
That would seem to be the most logical answer, considering the humble beginnings of the festival, according to Curtis Lipscomb, executive director of Kick, a nonprofit organization that offers support and faith-based educational workshops for gay African-American men within the city.
"It makes sense that it moved from a pride event that, in most recent memory, was held in a parking garage in Royal Oak, then a street festival in Ferndale and now on to this," Lipscomb says.
Yet the reactions to the migration have been varied — and controversial.
While some see the Hart Plaza event as a chance to move the gay civil rights initiative forward, others feel that the organizers have turned their backs on the community that hosted them for almost all of its existence.
Take, for example, Craig Covey, former mayor of Ferndale, the current Oakland County commissioner, a key organizer for the 1986 event and the state's first openly gay elected official.
In response to the move, Covey and members of the Ferndale LGBT community plan to host their own separate pride event, one day before the Equality Michigan-hosted festival.
Turning up the heat, the LGBT newsmagazine Between The Lines published an editorial in March calling Covey's tactics "possessive" and "divisive," to which Covey issued a counter-counter response in a post on his blog, Covey's Corner.
Stressing that the newly coined Ferndale Pride was only a means to offer other options to the community, Covey wrote on his blog that he "really didn't understand why the magazine was so upset in the first place," seeing as how it is located in Livonia.
However, these kinds of changes have been going on since Michigan's pride celebrations were created, giving credence to BTL's statement that "no one person owns pride."
This type of friction is just a natural part of any change, Gregory explains.
"With something like this that has been going on for many years, especially with so much forward momentum towards growth, these things just happen," he says.
As that date looms closer, Covey has admittedly buried the hatchet with MCP and BTL.
"We have integrated fully with Motor City Pride, and we are offering shuttles back and forth between our two cities for the events," Covey says, assuring that any dispute between the two is now old news.
For Lipscomb, the infighting was just mere futility compared to the positive response to the move and the overall message that any pride event brings.
"I know that I am in the minority when it comes to my story of stepping out," he says, recalling the support from his family and friends when came out at the age of 15. "For other people, the experience has not been pleasant.
But this is what these events are for, Lipscomb says.
"For one or two days, out of 365 of them, you can enjoy yourself and who you are without discrimination," he says. "Detroit already has a long history of welcoming its gay residents, and having it at Hart Plaza only increases the visibility of our cause."
For more information on Motor City Pride and the calendar of the festival's activities, visit motorcitypride.org.
> Email Benjamin M. Solis