Feeling Pride: Motor City Pride marks 50 years and other Pride events across Detroit

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

In June 50 years ago, several hundred people gathered in downtown Detroit and set off to do something bold and defiant: they marched to reject homophobic laws in Michigan and recognize gay and lesbian rights.

That 1972 march, which included between 200 and 400 people and began at Detroit's Cass Park and proceeded down Temple to Woodward before ending at what was then known as Kennedy Square, according to writer Heidi Rehak Lovy, marked the beginning of Motor City Pride, now the state's largest LGBTQ festival and march. It included speeches and songs, and was held annually after that and expanded to include a picnic. 

Today, Motor City Pride draws between 40,000 and 50,000 people to its festival and parade, a place for Michigan's LGBTQ community to not just celebrate and connect but continue to advocate for equality along with their allies. It returns June 11-12 to Detroit's Hart Plaza, marking its 50th anniversary with dozens of vendors, four stages and more than 100 entertainers.

A rainbow flag flies at Motor City Pride in Detroit's Hart Plaza in 2018.

"I look at the festival as having three pillars," said Motor City Pride Director Dave Wait. "The first one is to celebrate. The second one is the advocacy work, to work on advocacy. The third one is to connect with one another, with nonprofit organizations that support what we do, with vendors, and our sponsors. That connection is a big part of the festival."

And while Michigan's gay rights movement has come a long way in 50 years — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer even marched in last fall's parade, held in September because of COVID, the first sitting governor to do so — Wait said there's still "quite a ways to go."

"We still get hate posts on our different social media," said Wait. "There are laws that (politicians) are trying to enact across the country to limit protections for the LGBTQ community. While we're getting together to celebrate the advances, there's still work to be done so we have full equality."

This June will mark the return of many Pride events in southeast Michigan after many were canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic or pushed back. Pride is held in June because that's when New York's Stonewall Riots happened, in late June of 1969, a pivotal moment in the nation's gay rights movement.

With Motor City Pride, "we work to create a safe space so people can come to be their authentic selves," said Wait.

Here's a roundup of Pride events planned across Metro Detroit:

The Riseup with Pride group from Amazon march on Griswold St. during the parade in downtown Detroit.***Motor City Pride Parade and festival in downtown Detroit and Hart Plaza. September 19, 2021,Detroit, Mi. (Clarence Tabb, Jr./The Detroit News)

Motor City Pride

Less than a year after last year's event, the festival returns to its June roots, running 1-9 p.m. June 11 and 12:30-7 p.m. June 12 at Detroit's Hart Plaza. The parade begins at noon June 12, heading south down Griswold and ending at Hart Plaza. Festival admission is $5 and the main entrance is off of Jefferson. Entertainers this year include Jody Watley, with hits that span from the 1980s until now and will perform at 7:30 p.m. June 11 on the Pride stage. Other acts include Jax Anderson; Corry Michaels; Wreckno; and Mac Diesel. Go to motorcitypride.org.

Ferndale Pride is planned for June 4, though activities are planned throughout the month of June.

Ferndale Pride

Ferndale Pride's main festival kicks off at 12:30 p.m. June 4 in downtown Ferndale with entertainment, discussions, even weddings at the Gage DJ Dance Stage. The festival runs until 10 p.m. At the 12:30 p.m. Opening Ceremony on the Ferndale Project Mainstage, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel will be the keynote speaker. Activities also are planned before and after the June 4 festival. Go to www.ferndalepride.com/.

Mieyoshi Ragernoir's acrylic on canvas, "Fever," will be part of the Mighty Real/Queer Detroit Art Exhibition at roughly 17 galleries across Metro Detroit. Ragernoir is a Detroit-based figurative painter who often depicts "the radiance and joy" of Black femmes.

Mighty Real/Queer Detroit Art Exhibition

Roughly 150 artists and more than 700 pieces of art will be displayed in 17 galleries across Metro Detroit in June as part of what's being called the largest exhibition of LGBTQ+ art. Presented by Mighty Real/Queer Detroit with the Ford Foundation as the presenting sponsor, the exhibit will be "a historical deep dive" into the diversity of queer art and its longtime allies. The exhibitions will feature both emerging and established queer art, as well as never-before-seen works by artists whose careers were shortened by HIV/AIDS, according to a press release. It will also feature more than 40 performing artists, poetry readings, artists talks, panel discussions, youth art exhibits and more. Go to www.facebook.com/MRQD2022.

Pride Bar Crawl

Celebrate LGBTQ pride in downtown Detroit as part of the Pride Bar Crawl 2-9 p.m. June 11. Tickets are $9 and will include no admission and discounted drinks at five Detroit bars, including Three Legged Goat, Exodus Rooftop and Mix Nightclub. Go to www.barcrawllive.com/crawls/pride-bar-crawl-detroit.