Great Lakes Bay Pride looks to 2021 as a year filled with growth and change

If 2020 was the year of staying home and staying safe, 2021 will be the year of trying new things, changing, and growing. Local organizations are not exempt. Great Lakes Bay Pride, formerly Perceptions, is changing and expanding to meet the needs of the community.

Scott Ellis, executive director of Great Lakes Bay Pride, says “We need to make sure we’re connecting folks to the resources they need. We’re continuing the programming we already do and then really developing and growing.”

At the beginning of 2020, the organization hired Ellis as its first full-time executive director. One of the growth initiatives put into place under Ellis was updating the organizational identity.

The Pride Festival was in June, but signs still stand in yards throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region.“We spent 18 years as Perceptions and this year we started the process of retiring that brand and name and elevating our Great Lakes Bay Pride brand,” says Ellis. “Then 2020 happened. We got off to a great start and then we were sidelined in March. We spent a lot of time pivoting and re-imagining what we’d be doing for the year, but really that allowed us to do some internal work.”

The 2020 Pride Festival included decorating contests, a food drive, and other socially-distant activities.Through a previous needs assessment, the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Collaborative Project, Great Lakes Bay Pride identified key initiatives to focus on in the coming years. For Great Lakes Bay Pride, 2021 is all about taking that previously collected information and implementing it in the community.

“Our Collaborative Network is kind of the first project that one of our committees took on in 2020,” says Ellis. “The goal of this is to establish a formal network of providers and stakeholders that will work together to make sure that there are LGBTQ+ services, programs, and supports available in our region.”

The committee will examine resources that are available in other communities and figure out a way to provide those resources or services in the Great Lakes Bay Region. Ellis emphasizes the importance of scaling up resources that already exist rather than starting from nothing.

The point of the Collaborative Network is “to get people together who are in similar fields,” says Ellis. “This is especially important in mental health. We have a great program that happens in Midland and we don’t have that same program in Bay City or Saginaw. How do we get that and make sure we have it accessible in all of our communities?”

Ellis recognizes there will be obstacles to this effort due to lack of infrastructure. The organization’s service area is large and diverse, including Bay, Saginaw, Midland, Clare, Isabella, and Tuscola counties.

“As much as we promote regionalism and we are a regional organization, we have fragmented transportation systems, and the communities are still 20+ miles apart,” says Ellis. “There are still many barriers to accessing services in different communities if you are not fortunate enough to have a vehicle and gas money. So it’s important that we bring these programs to the communities and try to help make them as accessible as possible.”

The next initiative on the docket for 2021 is “a robust, almost centralized area to access information for LGBTQ+ programs and services,” says Ellis.

Like many other organizations, the Great Lakes Bay Pride group also hopes to focus on restoring programs that were canceled or transformed during 2020.Great Lakes Bay Pride noticed similar organizations provide an online referral system for businesses, organizations, mental health services, and healthcare providers that are LGBTQ+ friendly.

Now that the funding is secured, thanks to the endowment committee at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Midland, the next step is to launch “a small committee in January to begin asking those questions and really sketching out what this will look like, the vetting process, internal protocols,” says Ellis.

A food drive during the 2020 Great Lakes Bay Pride Festival raised about 1,000 pounds of food in a few hours.“It’s open to so many businesses and organizations,” says Ellis. “Really anybody who wants to market their business or service or program could be on this system so long as they agree to a non-discrimination policy that we set and other guidelines.”

After the parameters are set by the committee, Pride will begin reaching out to the appropriate business and organizations to build the system. “Then there would be a different track of marketing to potential consumers who can utilize this site to find anything from a plumber to an electrician to a mental health program and healthcare providers,” says Ellis.

The third initiative for 2021 involves building back the programs that were canceled or fundamentally different in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. Great Lakes Bay Pride plans to “continue and expand our existing outreach programs,” says Ellis. “This includes things like the Pride Festival, Harmony Diversity Choir, our transgender support group, scholarship program, awards banquet, and all the other smaller events, tabling opportunities, and educational opportunities that we participate in throughout the year.”

The final initiative Great Lakes Bay Pride is focusing on in the new year is identifying regional drop-in centers.

“We had been talking for years about the need for having physical space,” Ellis says. “Having administrative space where we could store just the general things that come along with running a nonprofit organization.”

One of Great Lakes Bay Pride’s 2021 goals is to develop an online referral system for businesses, organizations, mental health services, and healthcare providers that are LGBTQ+ friendly. Through the SOGIE Collaborative Project, Pride asked people in the community what they wanted, and they said “we really want a space where we feel at home, we can come in and feel welcome and included,” says Ellis. “It just reinforced our desire to have space for the community, so we knew that this had to be a priority in our future growth.”

To make these drop-in centers a reality, Great Lakes Bay Pride is announcing a feasibility study that will start this month.

In 2021, Great Lakes Bay Pride hopes to focus on key initiatives including working to make support programs accessible to people throughout its service area.“We want to make sure that we’re doing our homework and we’re really understanding what needs to happen and what is possible before we start pursuing something like a capital campaign,” says Ellis. “Hopefully by the fall of 2021 we’ll have a really good idea of where we want to go with this moving forward.”

“So when we seek support right now and seek resources, especially financial resources, what we’re looking for are in these four areas,” says Ellis. “We need to support and expand our mission, our collaborative innovation projects, and then the regional drop-in centers.”