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Detroit Pride goes on as Orlando tragedy unfolds

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Hours after a mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub left 50 people dead, festivities went on at Motor City Pride in downtown Detroit.

Thousands of people attended the weekend-long celebration of the LGBT community, checked with security wands before entry.

Festival goers approaching Hart Plaza from the north would see what police Chief James Craig called a “heightened state of readiness” among police officers securing the festival. “Some of it can’t be seen,” Craig told The Detroit News.

“There are no active threats to Detroit or to the region,” said Craig, who was in Hart Plaza.

Craig said he had conferred with the Detroit FBI Office and also talked with Mayor Mike Duggan on Sunday morning and advised him on the department’s efforts to keep the festival safe after the deadliest mass shooting in the United States, which also left at least 53 injured.

Motor City Pride, in its 44 year in Metro Detroit, is a project of Equality Michigan, said executive director Stephanie White.

The shooter in Orlando has been identified as Omar Mateen, 29. Mateen’s father, Mir Seddique, told NBC News about his son getting angry after seeing two men kissing a couple of months ago in Miami.

On Sunday, Detroit police Officer Dani Woods, the department’s LGBT liaison officer, walked in the Motor City Pride parade in uniform.

Motor City Pride is the local version of a national movement that started in New York City, which was the byproduct of violence, said White.

On June 28, 1969, New York City police conducted a raid at a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. The raid became violent, as patrons of the bar fought back, sparking a multiple day scuffle marked by violence on both sides, arrests, protests and property damage.

The next year, the first Gay Pride March was held in New York City. In the years to come, similar marches would pop up in other cities.

“So Pride has its roots in violence,” White, 47, said. “We won’t be made invisible. We’re here and we’re not going anywhere.”

Despite those violent roots, and despite the violence in Orlando and an alleged attempt to disrupt the Los Angeles Pride on Sunday that was broken up by law enforcement, White said Equality Michigan doesn’t advocate its members arm themselves for protection.

“Violence begets violence, and we would never advocate that,” White said.

“We have a lot of weapons here in the form of the Detroit Police Department,” White said. “I feel as safe here as I would any other day.”

Craig said he’s had an LGBT liaison officer at each city where he’s been police chief since his time in Portland, Maine, and sees it “as a great best practice to (have) open communications with that community.”

“If any member of the LGBT community is a victim of a crime, (Woods) can respond to the location and advise the victim who she is and what her role is,” Craig said. Sometimes that goes a long way in releasing any anxiety someone might have.”

Tiffany Simokovich, 28, brought her 5-month-old son Jacob out to Hart Plaza on Sunday afternoon. It was her third Pride event. They made the trip from Port Huron with friend Ryan Hebets, 26, also a three-year veteran of the festival.

For Simokovich, coming to Pride wasn’t a risk, it was an opportunity to form friendships.

Dana Rushin, 47, who described himself as a longtime festival goer, came to Hart Plaza on Sunday to “show support for the human race — not just white, black, straight, gay, transgender. Whatever you are.”

Traeonna Wagener came to Detroit with about 30 people, including her fiancee, a 38-year-old woman who works in bootblacking and leather restoration and goes by the name of Kiltgrrl.

The tragedy in Orlando, didn’t make Wagener fearful of attending a large, public LGBT gathering.

“You can’t be on guard for everything, or you’re never going to be able to live your life,” Wagener said. “I think it’s important to come out, and do our thing, and show them they didn’t win,” Kiltgrrl said.

Sunday night, 8 p.m., at Ferndale City Hall, a vigil will be held to honor victims of the Orlando shooting.