Gathering draws large, enthusiastic crowd
Above photos By Lil DeLaat
The First Annual Pride Celebration arrived at Brooks Park on Wednesday June 28th and provided an evening of fun and festivities for the hundreds who came to show their support for the LGBTQ community. The event proved to be a festival of love and acceptance with drag performer DeeDee Chaunte headlining a cavalcade of entertainment that included some extraordinary local vocalists in Iris Herrera and Megan Wirts who was joined by Cora Schuitema for one of her selections.
People danced and sang along with the performers and the crowd seemed to embrace the opportunity to express their individualism freely and openly.
Jen Braman and Lesly DeLaat spearheaded the efforts to make this happen and we caught up with them for a little post party interview
Why a Pride celebration in Newaygo?
Lesly: We needed to create an open, safe place for members of the community young and old to be able to feel comfortable with who they are in an environment that accepts them. Pride is far more than a group seeking attention, it’s a celebration of liberation with its roots in the Stonewall Uprising. It honors all that the people before us went through to allow us to be who we are today. It’s a freedom of expression in a fun and inclusive way, where the more bold, the more beautiful.
Jen As a therapist serving the LGBTQAI+ population I saw a need for community connection. Pride is a way the community gathers together and encourages celebration and expression I heard stories and could sense that the community was ready
Were you surprised at the turnout?
Jen: I was surprised at the turnout for a first time event that we planned in just 2 weeks. Clearly there is a need. Happy that it was a peaceful , happy celebration. Next year I think those who might have been fearful will feel encouraged by this.
Lesly: Shocking! The attendance of the event was said to exceed 450 people and that alone is outstanding. I anticipated around 200 so when that number began to double, I couldn’t believe what kind of community stood behind us. There were people from Big Rapids Pride, Muskegon Pride, Grand Rapids, Pride, and Up North Pride.
Personal highlights of the event?
Lesly: Deedee Chaunte did not disappoint! And the other performers she brought with her. The community performances were just outstanding and each one had a little special something to give. The poetry, the songs and the shows were definitely a big part, but the community that came together was definitely the highlight.
Jen: The joy that was felt among all those who attended It was clear that those who came were proud of how well the celebration turned out and pleasantly surprised at how far Newaygo has come.
What does this mean to the LGBTQ community?
Lesly: Everything and then some! When a small town like newaygo opens up to the LGBTQ community and shows an inch of acceptance that is big! We’re here, we’re queer and we’re not going anywhere.
Jen: Coming from an accomplice to the community, as Dee Dee Chaunte encouraged me to be, I hope this means they can feel more free to speak up for themselves and feel free to be who they want to be. I hope this means they can feel more comfortable living in this community and feel more acceptance and support.
Will there be another one?
Jen: Absolutely. This is just the beginning.
Lesly: See you in 2024 for an even bigger show!
Pride Images Below By Alex Flynn of AWF Photo
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