March 3, 2024

Keep Showing Up: Up North Pride leaders reflect on June events, anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, and allyship

Plus, a look at UNP's fall Pride celebrations
By Jillian Manning | June 17, 2023

Nearly 53 years ago, the first Pride march was held in New York City, commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. In Traverse City, Up North Pride (UNP) hosted its first Pride march in 2014 and has since grown to offer one of the biggest Pride celebrations in the state.

But UNP no longer puts on their major events in June, aka Pride Month. In part due to the pandemic and in part due to the competition with other major festivals and events during the busy summer season, UNP’s march has taken place in late September for the last two years and will again in 2023.

Anna Dituri, president and advocacy chair of UNP, says she thinks of June as the preamble to the organization’s fall programming and events. “We’re doing some fun things in June, and our Pride [event in the fall] this year is going to be just as big as it was last year—just as wonderful and fabulous.”

Pride, Part I

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot going on in June to celebrate. Already this month, UNP has hosted a Pride Carnival in conjunction with Northwestern Michigan College and Drag Bingo at Iron Fish Distillery. Other local partners have stepped up to partner on community-led events, like Pride at the Ballpark at Turtle Creek Stadium.

Throughout the month, UNP has also been offering a new community art project: Painting with Pride.

“The project aims to engage the community and provide a space for people to express their creativity while exhibiting the values of the 2SLGBTQ+ community,” says Nick Viox, UNP’s director of programming and operations. “The project feature[s] four 8-by-8-foot murals designed by two professional artists, Heather Spooner and Joey Salamon, in a paint-by-number style. Community members are invited to contribute their own splash of color in the mural series.”

Viox says the pro artists will polish up the mural at the end of the month. The murals will later be displayed throughout town “to serve as a permanent reminder of the creativity and inclusivity of the 2SLGBTQ+ community.”

If you want to explore your creative side, you have a few more opportunities. This weekend (Saturday, June 24) is the Rainbow Run, an inaugural color run put on with TART Trails that follows the 4 miles of the Boardman Lake Loop Trail. Participants will get splattered with eco-friendly cornstarch at five stations along the course, and an afterparty will provide music and refreshments at Hull Park.

The finale of June’s event calendar is the Drag Brunch on Sunday, June 25, at Short’s Pull Barn in Elk Rapids, with performances running from 11am to 4pm.

Cling to the Good

Multiple Pride events around the country have been forced to cancel drag performances—and, in some cases, Pride celebrations altogether—due to a mix of safety concerns and so-called “drag bans” that limit or prohibit people from dressing in drag. When asked if the UNP team has extra concerns at the moment, both Viox and Dituri say they’re planning 2023 like it was any other year.

“In short, we are always concerned about the safety of our participants and performers,” Viox says. “Our host venue, Short’s Brewing Co., has been in contact with local police and will be monitoring the doors. … This isn’t extra planning on behalf of Up North Pride; this is something we always do because in order to make a safe space, we need to consider all scenarios.”

Dituri seconds the importance of being in contact with local police and even private security for some events, but notes that the celebration will go on.

“We do have naysayers at the events,” she laments. “But the queer community in northern Michigan just far outweighs that. As long as we continue to show up as ourselves, our full selves, in those spaces, I think that we outweigh the negatives.”

Speaking of drag bans, at this time of this writing, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is tracking nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the U.S., more than 70 of which have been passed into law in 20 states. In 2022, a record-breaking 315 bills were introduced, which means this year is already up 155 percent…and it’s only in June.

According to Dituri, Traverse City is somewhat insulated from the issues happening in other towns in America, and it’s something she doesn’t take for granted.

“We’re widely known [as a relatively] nondiscriminatory city,” she says. “We’ve known that for like 20-30 years, and the city has been great and at the forefront of that.”

Dituri adds the community’s support was clear at UNP’s spring fundraiser, where “there was a lot of love in the room” and UNP “raised a substantial amount of money.”

Another point of optimism happened at the state level this March when Michigan passed the expanded Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, an anti-discrimination law.

“It’s phenomenal for us. There’s now protections in the Michigan Constitution that prohibit discrimination against sex, gender identity, and sexual identity,” Dituri says.

It’s laws like these that give Dituri hope in the face of the restrictive bans being passed in other states. “We have to keep up that fight and just cling to the good to get through,” she says.

Seeking Solidarity

Dituri adds that the fight isn’t solely up to members of the LGBTQ+ community; allies need to lend their support too.

“Solidarity is really important,” she says. “Members of our community are getting attacked left and right across the country. I think it’s even more important than ever that allies come to the events and show their support and enjoy our festivities just as much as we do.”

For Dituri, solidarity can also appear in other forms. She says having tough conversations—whether it’s about anti-LGBTQ+ legislation or common misconceptions—at the dinner table is a great place to start. “Just fostering a sense of knowledge and fact-based conversation [matters],” she says. “There’s so much misinformation and hateful rhetoric that’s just getting thrown around.”

From there, she says donating to or volunteering with organizations that support the queer community can make a big impact.

Viox seconds this, and says the best thing an ally can do is be there at every turn.

“Keep showing up,” he says simply. “If not for yourself, then for the younger version of you that didn’t have somebody to look up to when they were coming out. … Show up by simply attending and bringing a friend. Show up by not letting hate win and by defending the queer community, even when we’re not in the room. Show up.”

Pride, Part II

Up North Pride will be back in late September with the organization’s big celebration, which runs Sept. 27 to Oct. 1. Events include a visibility rally and march, drag night, silent disco, comedy night, pool party, bike ride, and the classic “Big Gay Brunch.”

In the meantime, UNP is also working on a new endeavor: the Resource Directory. Viox says this is a service the community has asked for, and it’s now live on the UNP website.

“The Resource Directory serves as a tool to help guide people towards businesses and physical spaces in Traverse City and the surrounding areas—up to 40 miles—that take active stances towards equity,” he explains. “Healthcare providers, attorneys, restaurants, places of worship, nonprofits, realtors, therapists—you name it—can go in the directory.”

Dituri adds that a committee reviews applications from businesses before adding them to the directory. Businesses must fill out a brief form that includes questions about anti-discrimination policies in the workplace as well as other core values of the company. To find the directory or submit an application, visit upnorthpride.com/directory.

Photo by Lil Jes Photography

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