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Hundreds celebrate at second Keweenaw Pridefest

HANCOCK — Kicking off the start of Pride Month, the second annual Keweenaw Pridefest drew hundreds to the Hancock Beach Saturday.

The event is put on by Keweenaw Queers, with the goal of being free, all-ages and inclusive, said President Kate Atkinson. This year’s theme, “Here and Queer,” celebrated both the progress made in obtaining recognition and the support locally.

“I think it does a lot to raise awareness and also reflect positively on the community,” she said. “I think being up here we’re so far north, and people have a lot of assumptions of the demographic and the views of the area. Something like this that can let people be out and have fun and be inclusive seems really important. I think it went really well.”

Held at the East Houghton Waterfront Park last year, it moved to a bigger location in Hancock to better accommodate the crowd. At one point, there were more than 450 people, Atkinson said.

Nick Warren of Lake Linden was happy to see so many members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“A lot of the time when you’re walking around Houghton, you see the flags in the shops, but you don’t really see people out very often just because of how small of a town it is,” they said. “So it’s nice to see that.”

The sidewalk was lined with community organizations distributing information, from local advocacy groups to bone marrow registry.

An array of rainbow stickers was laid out at the Copper Shores Community Health Foundation booth.

“It’s being in the community, and specifically the queer community, to let them know that we’re here to support them,” said Callisto Cortez, youth development specialist for Copper Shores. “We are accepting of all people, and with this community, we want to make sure they know we have the resources if they need them.”

CopperShores also has a child advocacy center for abused and neglected children, while Cortez and other staff members also go into local schools to talk about substance abuse prevention, emotional intelligence and other issues. This month, Copper Shores also launched a new sexual assault crisis line.

At the booth Saturday, Copper Shores provided Narcan, which can be used to prevent fatalities in overdoses. It also provided a card with LGBTQ+ resources, connecting people to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Hotline and other advocacy hotlines and resources.

Copper Shores staff said they had loved seeing Saturday’s turnout.

“It’s so wonderful,” said Kassy Kallio, community support specialist and peer recovery coach. “You’re just sitting here and watching everybody. Everyone’s happy. Everyone’s ready to give each other hugs. There’s squealing, laughing. It’s filled with love.”

A few booths down, people could also pick up miniature Pride flags and talk to several local and state organizations working to improve conditions for LGBTQ+ people statewide.

Equality Michigan was at Pridefest representing its Advocates for Community Empowerment department, which helps with advocacy and referrals with situations such as sexual assault or sexually transmitted diseases. Equality Michigan recently hired an outreach coordinator for the U.P. to get the word out. It’s a slow-moving process, she said, but with more and more pride events popping up every year, “it’s going in the right direction,” said community advocacy manager Margaret Avery.

“We’re such a community-based organization,” she said. “It’s very important to our values, it’s very important to the work that we do. So coming out and being in a physical location where we can be with the community that we represent, it’s just very important.”

UP Rainbow Pride, which began holding Marquette’s Pride Fest 10 years ago, has branched out to events to connect to other queer organizations in the Upper Peninsula and create year-round programming. In Marquette and Ironwood, they’ve held board game nights, open mic nights and other events to bring people together.

“Honestly, the only antidote to the hate that we see in our political climate these days is community, and being able to lift each other up and help each other out when things go bad,” said board chair Lex Exworthy. “In the state of Michigan, we’re really lucky to have certain laws that protect us. But it’s still difficult to sometimes find or keep employment, keep housing, find the doctors that are going to listen to you and not misgender you or not treat you because you’re trans. So connecting with communities and being able to share those resources is really important.”

Al Gray of Marquette is the state’s rural communities representative on Michigan’s LGBTQ+ Commission, created last year to help shape policies improving the quality of life for the LGBTQ+ community.

The commission will hold listening sessions later this fall throughout the state to hear what people think the state should do to become more welcoming and inclusive. Being at events like Pridefest helps the commission get the word out to the public about the work it’s doing on the policy level, Gray said.

“We’ve been able to make a lot of connections,” they said. “It’s slow-moving, but everyone’s really eager to make things happen.”

In the beach setting, people also had plenty of space to relax. They could play games, listen to four live bands throughout the day, and also get their faces painted.

Zoe Robinson of Copper Harbor had several stars marked on her cheeks. She and her friends had been wanting to attend a pride festival for a while, she said.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to, and this finally popped up,” she said. “I’m having a lot of fun here. I think this is great, and I love seeing so many people coming together and just being happy.”

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