Ann Arbor Pride’s 25th anniversary was celebrated in Kerrytown with performances, vendors and kid-friendly activities over the weekend.
There was yoga, belly dancing, a street fair, poetry slam and a performance by AJA from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” throughout the day Saturday. On Sunday, JuJubee, also from “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” hosted Pride Bingo Brunch at Blue Llama Jazz Club and a Pride Picnic that took place in Wheeler Park.
Among the attendees were members and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community, from people who have just started their identity journey to people who have been fighting for equal rights for years. Joe Schoch, co-director of Ann Arbor Pride, reaffirmed how the festival achieved that goal this year by planning a plethora of age and gender-inclusive activities and performances.
“It’s really important for us to be sure that Pride is inclusive for everybody,” Schoch said. “Ours is very community-centric, and we try to do a little bit of everything for everybody.”
The proceeds from the festival will benefit the Jim Toy Community Center, an LGBTQ+ resource center in the Washtenaw County area. Cadence Cartier, drag queen performer with Boylesque, noted the importance of Jim Toy’s work.
“The services that they provide really do help our youth, really help give them the support that they need when they don’t have support,” Cartier said.
In addition to the performers, booths selling merchandise, promoting political campaigns and giving away items were set up close to the main stage. One of the booths was run by an organization called Free Mom Hugs, a non-profit group of affirming allies and parents aimed to spread love and acceptance.
Arleta Greer, co-lead of the organization’s Michigan chapter, described the hardships faced by many LGBTQ+ youth.
“So many of our younger generation in the LGBTQ+ community is struggling with being accepted at home, or being accepted at school,” Greer said. “Sometimes, this is the only parental hug they’ve gotten in days or weeks.”
Alongside Free Mom Hugs, there were also numerous support and mental health organizations. A 2015 report by GLSEN on the National School Climate Survey found that 85 percent of LGBTQ+ students have experienced verbal harassment and 27 percent have been physically harassed due to their sexual orientation.
Rackham student Lindsey Beaver said she recently began identifying as bisexual, and shared her experience with discovering herself.
“(Your identity) is a huge part of your daily experience, your interactions with other people,” Beaver said. “I found that when I started realizing that I wasn’t straight, it was like this whole thing wasn’t locked inside me where all of a sudden I could love people more. All of a sudden, I feel a lot more comfortable.”
Drawing from her own experience, Beaver emphasized the importance of Pride festivals and celebrating gender identity.
“I think it’s really important for people to construct a narrative that is true to themselves, that helps them deepen their interactions with other people, and have a deeper relationship with yourself as well,” Beaver said. “The Pride festival is a fantastic way to do that because you feel supported, you feel like you’re not alone, and it’s a great resource to have in our community.”