Pride continues to inspire in new ways across the Great Lakes Bay Region

For many, June marks the kickoff of a month-long celebration of events and causes celebrating Pride Month. Locally, that also brings the Great Lakes Bay Region Pride Festival, which happens to be one of the many events the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on so far this year.

Pride by no means is cancelled, however. It’s just showing up in different ways, like with switching the festival to ‘Celebrating Pride at Home’, and taking that opportunity to partner with new organizations.

In that spirit, Perceptions recently partnered with Hidden Harvest to collect non-perishable food items for those in need. The drive-through effort, which took place on June 20 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Midland will benefit those in need in the region.

A group of volunteers at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Midland on June 20 along with Scott Ellis and Samantha McKenzie of Hidden Harvest.

“The proceeds from the private food drive, will be shared with the different food pantries and organizations that would have received food from the Stamp Out Hunger food drive that was postponed, and may be potentially canceled, so it is going filling a great need,” says Samantha McKenzie, President and CEO of Hidden Harvest.

“Food insecurity and hunger, are issues that impact everyone and Pride shows everyone that they are accepted, valued and loved as they are,” says McKenzie. “How great to marry those two concepts together in a collaboration that can help and support our community, which both Perceptions and the Great Lakes Bay Pride community have always been great about doing.”

It is estimated that over 1,000 pounds of food was collected through the efforts of Great Lakes Bay Pride, Perceptions, St. John's Episcopal Church and Hidden Harvest.

The food drive is just one of the ways that the organization is adapting amidst new requirements for social distancing and more.

“Earlier this year, we had to make the difficult decision about canceling the annual Pride festival and after party just like nearly every other Pride festival or parade and other events around the world,” says Ellis. “But the silver lining and big takeaway we found from doing this a little bit differently this year, was the success of our Pride at Home campaign, which distributed 600 signs within the Great Lakes Bay Region. It was a really positive confirmation that people are very interested in showing their support for Pride all the time, not just this month, or this year.”

Sign collection in Midland at the Great Lakes Loons Stadium.

“We are thrilled to have met that goal and seeing that support this year, it is top of mind moving forward, and we are thinking about how we will continue to grow the program and hopefully next year, we won't be having to celebrate solely at home,” says Ellis.

Ellis highlighted it was a total community effort, with help coming from all around the region.

“I'd like to acknowledge this couldn’t have been possible without the tremendous support we received from throughout the region and the people and organizations who helped us coordinate the distribution location in each community,” says Ellis. “We worked with the Bay Area Community Foundation for distribution at the Pere Marquette Depot in Bay City, the Great Lakes Loons to use their parking lot in Midland, Great Lakes Bay Heath Centers Hearth Home in Saginaw, and help from the Isabella County Human Rights Committee in Mt. Pleasant.”

​​​​​​​During ‘Celebrate Pride at Home’ sign pickup in Mt. Pleasant.

Ellis stresses that every effort helps, noting that Mt. Pleasant had one of the higher demands for yard signs among our local communities.

“I think it’s especially incredible to see the turnout that we had in our smaller communities like Mt. Pleasant,” says Ellis. “I think that is due in part to the great work of the Isabella County Human Rights Commission, which has been operating since 2008.”A Pride flag flying at Central Michigan University.

While this year’s signs have completed distributed across Bay, Midland, Mt. Pleasant and Saginaw counties, Perceptions is building on the success of this first year of transitioning to virtual events will help broaden the focus for years to come.

This year, the organization also ran an indoor/outdoor decorating contest, asking those in the region to show their support creatively through decorating things like a window, a porch or part of a yard. The competition runs through the end of the month, with a randomly drawn prizes for participants.

And for those who wish simply to visually show their support, the organization launched their Celebrating Pride at Home Facebook profile picture frame.

“We have had a bunch of people utilizing the frame on Facebook since we launched it on June 1 and we're really excited about all the ways people have shown their support this year from all over the region,” says Ellis.

Those efforts complement Perceptions immediate shift to supporting members of the LGBTQ community and their allies with virtual events and happy hours.  

“Our transgender support group has been utilizing an online format to meet since April and we look forward to continuing that in July,” says Ellis.

Celebrating people of all types, no matter their race, gender and sexual orientation is something at the heart of Pride. Scott Ellis, Executive Director of Perceptions.

“All of these efforts were really important for us to pursue this year because being in quarantine throughout the springtime and complying with social distancing requirements, which have limited our ability to have boots on the ground the way that we normally would,” says Ellis. “So, we are really happy to find ways to connect with and hope to continue these kinds of partnerships and efforts in different ways.”

Later this summer, Ellis is planning for a small event at Drydock Beer Garden, which is still in the planning stages.

“The setup and location make it a good option for this summer, because as an outdoor venue, with room for about a hundred people, we are able to hold and small event and still follow capacity guidelines,” says Ellis. “We are looking forward to sharing more information soon.”

For more information about upcoming events with Perceptions and the Great Lakes Bay Pride Festival as well as larger scale events like the upcoming global Pride Day on June 27, visit the Perceptions event page.

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Read more articles by Courtney Soule.

Courtney is a longtime Midland resident and enjoys telling the story of the community's evolution. She ran Catalyst Midland as the publication's managing editor from October 2017 through September 2020. Her favorite topics are interesting people, change makers, outdoor recreation and design. Aside from Catalyst, her published work can be found various places including Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and a number of other websites, papers, menus and the occasional one-liner.