First Keweenaw Pridefest draws bigger-than-expected crowd
HOUGHTON — What started as an idea for a 20-person potluck grew into an event bringing hundreds of people to the East Houghton Waterfront park for the first LGBT+ Keweenaw Pridefest.
“The turnout’s been amazing, and we’re just so thankful for the community support and everyone who’s turned out,” said Katie Atkinson, a member of the organizing committee.
With the backlash against LGBTQ+ civil rights in Florida and other states, Atkinson said it was great to see the level of support locally.
“It means so much to me, it means so much to my friends, and it means a lot to everyone who comes out,” she said. “Just because it’s so spread out, everyone maybe feels a little alone, but especially if you’re part of the LGBT+ community. So it’s really wonderful to put this event on and to be a bit more visible and have a chance for people to come and meet and become part of a community.”
“We were just a few people who thought it would be cool to have a Pridefest locally, especially one that’s more community focused and not necessarily tied to Michigan Tech,” Atkinson said.
Organizers originally planned on a small meetup at the park. They set up a GoFundMe page to see if they could get any donations and before long they had raised over a thousand dollars to host the Pride event.
They submitted a proposal to the City of Houghton to confirm that they could use power and play music at the East Houghton Waterfront Park. All of the GoFundMe donations went towards paying musical performers and audio technicians for the performances.
In addition to the potluck, Saturday’s Pridefest included live music and informational booths from community and U.P. groups.
Equality Michigan is a statewide education and advocacy group addressing issues that disproportionately impact LBGTQ+ groups. Mandy Bonesteel, Equality Michigan’s rural outreach coordinator, does victim services for the LBGTQ+ community through the Upper Peninsula and helps connect them to resources. That can include both victims of crime and of discrimination.
She also provides training to organizations and businesses on diversity issues.
Saturday’s event had been helpful, with many people coming up and asking questions. A lot of people either hadn’t known about the group or didn’t realize they’d expanded to the U.P., Bonesteel said.
“That’s why I come up to these events, to let the community know that hey, you know, we’re here, we’re a resource if you need us,” she said.
Canterbury House is the Episcopal campus ministry at Michigan Technological University, providing a safe and supportive environment for students, as well as providing discussion groups and meals. It is also designated as a safe zone for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Canterbury House is part of the Episcopal Church, and we support all people and we respect the dignity of every person,” said campus missioner Rick Stanitis. “As soon as there was an opportunity for a local Pride event, there was no question that we would be here supporting it.”
People wandered in and out of the event, jumping in the canal to cool off or setting down picnic blankets. There were no firm estimates on total attendance, but with about an hour left, there were between 150 and 200 people in the park.
Erin Matas of Houghton came with her spouse and children. Matas enjoyed bringing her family out to celebrate with the community and meet people they knew and didn’t know. (What her children liked: “It’s beautiful” and “cotton candy.”)
“It’s really infrequent that we get to celebrate Pride altogether, and especially after the pandemic it’s nice to be together,” she said.
After turning 50 on the first day of Pride Month, Jimi Kokko of Baraga decided to come to their first pride event. Kokko hadn’t known what to expect, but loved the atmosphere.
“I just like walking around meeting everyone,” Kokko said. “The music’s always nice, the nature’s great. Just seeing so many people supporting each other.”
With the festival’s success, Atkinson hopes to make it an annual event.
“I think it’s pretty clear that we’re going to be on the hook for 2024, so we’re hoping to definitely shoot a bit bigger,” she said.