You may have heard: Motor City Pride is moving this year, from its long-time location in downtown Ferndale to Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit. It’s a huge upgrade and it means a big increase in visibility for the GLBT community, room for significant growth of the festival and a fantastic venue for the variety of events and activities Pride entails.
Naturally, people are worked up.
Many in the Ferndale-centered gay community have expressed emotions ranging from disappointment to anger over the move. Reasons cited as to why the move is a bad idea include the fact that Ferndale is very gay-friendly, the event is a tradition there, and the businesses in Ferndale will lose money. Overheard cocktail party chatter reveals more: that Detroit is not welcoming to the gay community, and that parking, or crime worries, or inconvenience are reasons why they won’t attend. There is even a separate Ferndale Pride planned.
From all the bellyaching, you’d think these people actually spent time at Motor City Pride!
Anyone who’s been to Pride knows that it is a big street fair, with a crowd that is diverse no matter how you slice it: all races, genders, ages, and economic dispositions are represented. It does have a smalltown feel, and it doesn’t compare to Pride in other major cities. And if you look for the Woodward-corridor gay contingent they are either not there, or they are holed up inside Q (or Zoo Bar or whatever it’s called now) or Soho. I wrote about this after attending Pride two years ago, and I’d argue that commentary is worth a read again today.
So it is really kind of surprising to me that the people with the most gripes about the scale of Pride in the past – the people who routinely head to Chicago or Toronto for bigger Pride celebrations – are the same people who are complaining that Motor City Pride is moving into a bigger, more visible and (frankly) better-suited venue.
Look, I get the disappointment when a big event moves. But the lack of vision from the community in this regard is really kind of unbelievable, particularly when it comes to the formation of Ferndale Pride, a series of events designed to “complement” the events downtown. Craig Covey, the openly-gay Oakland County Commissioner, former Ferndale Mayor and a perfectly nice fellow is the co-chair of this event, is doing a great job of sticking to the script that everyone should support Motor City Pride downtown too, but the Ferndale thing has kind of turned into a rallying point for folks who resent the move.
It’s hard to be critical of Covey, who has done more for the benefit of the SE Michigan gay community than most of you combined, but all I can say is if I wanted to be super passive-aggressive I would plan a bunch of events the same weekend as Pride but make a point of not technically overlapping any of Pride’s official hours. It’s really suggesting a classic Oakland County approach … venture into big bad Detroit for the event only, and then scurry back to the safety and security of the OC!
Covey has said in various outlets that lots of other cities have multiple Pride celebrations, and that’s true. But I can’t help but think how fun it would have been if we had a Motor City Pride with the support and attention of the whole community, and then later in the summer there was Ferndale Pride in the spirit of Market Days in Chicago, the country’s largest gay street fair. Instead we now have White Pride as an alternative to regular Pride. I say that in jest! Kinda.
The OC crowd wasn’t the only one upset about Motor City Pride on the move. The Black Pride Society, the group that throws the annual Hotter Than July festival, is also displeased. Their stated concerns are that the Pride planning committee didn’t build a community consensus for the move (and while MCP organizers have been exploring a move to Hart Plaza for years, this is technically true). OK, valid point, but the word on the street is that it has more to do with MCP’s stated objective of creating a more inclusive event and the concern that it could potentially eclipse HTJ. And the fact that MCP is now actually in Detroit, which I suppose you can’t blame the Black Pride Society for feeling a little ownership over.
Now honestly, if I were them I’d feel kind of good. Motor City Pride is now twice as far away as it used to be from Palmer Park, where Hotter Than July is held! And while Pride may now be in a more appealing location to the black gay community, it’s not like Pride in Ferndale was anything close to a white-only event. Hotter Than July serves a different need than Motor City Pride, and I think the City of Detroit just lucked out because now it gets to host two GLBT Pride events.
Imagine when the dancefloor isn't squished to one side of the street!
Well, we clearly have a lot of Pride in the Detroit area!
Obviously I’m thrilled about the move. I’m not the only one who has commented over the years that it seems, well, odd that Detroit's Pride takes place in a suburb. Without dismissing the significance of Ferndale as a community that has been embraced by gays who have likewise been embraced in return, I think it has been one of those things that perpetuates the notion that Detroit as a whole does not have a "real” gay community.
The move also reinforces - for me, anyway - the fact that the Detroit area GLBT community still occasionally takes its role as community developers seriously. Ferndale was a pretty bleak place before the gays and the cool kids moved in, and now it's quite a nicely-actualized community. Really a beacon of forward-thinking in Oakland County. Pride moving downtown kind of shows that the general gay community views Detroit as a place with promise too. And a successful Pride could go a long way toward changing perceptions of the city for the gays and lesbians who spend most of their lives outside of it.
I think this Pride will really blow everyone away, and given the fact we live in a state where rights for the GLBT community have actually REGRESSED over the past ten years, increased visibility and a successful Pride are more important than ever. So go and have fun. And you know what? Check out Ferndale Pride too. I might view their handling of things as a mis-step, but everyone wins when everyone wins.