Pride Month festivities in Battle Creek are expected to draw record numbers of people to support and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, says Deana Spencer, co-president of Battle Creek Pride.
Since 2017, the first year that the city celebrated Pride Month
in July, attendance has grown steadily, Spencer says. The month of June has been officially designated as Pride Month
, but leadership with Battle Creek Pride say they have chosen to hold their celebration July, so they can participate in Pride events in cities that celebrate in June.
Although BC Pride hosts activities and fundraisers throughout the month, the major events will take place Thursday through Sunday and include a parade on Friday featuring Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel who will serve as Grand Marshal; a daylong festival on Saturday at Leila Arboretum with games, food, Pride swag and clothing, and live music; and a Candlelight Vigil on Sunday evening at the Sojourner Truth monument.
Among the newest additions, will be a Beer Garden and some vendors who have never participated in the festival.
Kim Langridge, left, and Deana Spencer, right, co-presidents of BC Pride, staff a table at a Breaking Bred community event in June in downtown Battle Creek.
“We have more vendors than we’ve ever had before which is exciting and nerve-wracking,” Spencer says. “I’m super-excited that we’re pushing close to 70 vendors.”
The record number of vendors, including some that will be coming from outside of Calhoun County, signifies that BC Pride is doing a “good job of getting our message out there,” she says. “Hopefully, this says a lot as far as a much greater acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in Battle Creek.”
In addition to the different vendors, representatives with more than 10 community service organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Veterans Administration, and Planned Parenthood will be offering information about the services they provide and giveaways. Grace Health will provide free COVID vaccinations and boosters to anyone who wants one, including children, from a bus provided by Carewell Services.
“We’re expecting our biggest turnout yet this year,” Spencer says. “I think all of the Pride festivals that have happened so far have had higher than normal attendance. Pride festivals in other cities have had higher attendance than in the past. People have been scared and sad for a long time people and they’re just ready to celebrate with their peers and their friends and be out in the community.”
The pandemic forced the cancellation of Pride Month celebrations in Battle Creek in 2020 and 2021. But, BC Pride was able to host an open house
for their Resource Center, at 104 Calhoun Street, in July 2021 which presented opportunities to enjoy a scaled-down observance and generate exposure for the LGBTQ+ community and the Resource Center which offers a whole range of services, including free computer lab stations, Gayme Nights, support groups, and referrals for those in need of community resources.
A fire truck passes under a banner during a recent Pride Month parade.
While people are aware of the organization and its Resource Center
, Spencer says she thinks people don’t have a good understanding of the resources, services, and programming available, particularly for young people. She says this is changing as these youth talk to each other and spread the word.
“We have a youth group that is growing all the time and anywhere between 10 and 13 kids participate each month,” she says. “It kind of started as a support group. It’s a social, education, and support group, and support looks different to everybody, especially young people. With the support groups we offer, youth are able to talk about problems and issues they are having in their daily lives. They are able to be in a room with other kids where they feel safe and comfortable.”
As Spencer and co-president Kim Langridge work with board members and volunteers to develop new programs and services and fundraising opportunities, Spencer says they also are trying to foster a more diverse board and volunteer base that better represents what the community looks like.
The current board is made up predominantly of White individuals between the ages 35 to 45. Spencer says this leads to a common misperception that the organization caters to that demographic.
“I can completely understand why it feels that way,” she says. “The board is primarily White and middle-aged and we’re working to change that narrative.”
People march in the 2017 Pride Month parade led by Charlie Fulbright, former president of BC Pride and a trustee with the Battle Creek Public Schools Board of Education.
Unlike many nonprofits, BC Pride does not have paid staff. It is managed by Langridge and Spencer, both of whom have full-time jobs. They work with a team of volunteers to keep the Resource Center open and operational.
“We all have jobs outside of the organization, which is a challenge because a lot of the things that need to be done like meetings and putting together training materials need to happen during the day,” she says. “We are working towards finding ways to get our work for the Resource Center done while also working on some bigger issues. We’d like to do more education in general for the community because there’s a lot to learn about our culture in our community.”
That education involves changing people’s mindsets and changing and expanding systems already in place, including those within the county’s different school districts and the homeless community with shelters designed to keep those who identify as LGBTQ+, transgender or non-binary in a safe and welcoming space.
The recent Supreme Court decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, which paved the way to make abortion illegal in many states, has made the work of BC Pride and gay rights organizations throughout the United States even more critical because of ensuing discussions among some Supreme Court Justices about eliminating other rights, including same-sex marriage
, Spencer says.
Efforts to criminalize these legal rights “really invalidates people period,” Spencer says. “Part of a marriage, in addition to being two people who love and care for one another, is a legal contract that protects the ability to get benefits through a spouse’s place of employment, social security benefits, the right to make medical decisions for a spouse, and legally binding wills. I just really struggle with the fact that people feel certain sectors of our population are not entitled to the same legal protections as other folks.”
While paying closer attention to how issues on the state and national level impact the LGBTQ+ population, Spencer says BC Pride is always looking for opportunities to partner and collaborate with organizations in the community as a way to eliminate the stigma and false narratives. She says the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in Battle Creek continues to grow.
“When one of us that is part of LGBTQ+ community is invited to sit on boards and get involved in community organizations, it signifies to me that we do belong, that our needs are important, and that we’re finally being invited and have a seat at the table. I personally sit on five boards and they do really important work in this community. The fact that my voice is being considered, means a lot.”
Spencer says BC Pride wants to work alongside anyone in the community who is interested in sharing their time and talent.
“The more voices, the better,” she says. “Our community is very diverse and we want those different perspectives and ideas.”
The event planned for Pride Month celebrations in Battle Creek