Even a pandemic can’t stop Pride Month in Ypsilanti.

Ypsilanti, MI — Although the official Ypsi Pride block celebration was canceled back in April, this year’s Pride celebration is covering more ground than ever. 

Hundreds of local residents are participating in the community-wide “Project YARD (Ypsi Area Rainbow Decorating).” They’re decorating porches, windows, gardens, fences, sidewalks and more with every color there is. 

Residents are celebrating Pride inside their homes, too: Original Ypsi Pride organizers have set up what promises to be a lively virtual variety show featuring favorite local LGBTQ+ performers, including hosts Mx. Madame Kiki / Mx. Venis Mound and Chanel Hunter with Furillostar, Pixie Mae Barnes, Tedi Rhinestone, and Tonio Adonis, among others. 

Queer vendors like Queerest Gear and Yuki & Remshe: Nerd Shop will also be showcasing their wares, which include everything from 11-piece dice sets to fashion-forward face masks. 

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“With the announcement of the Stay-at-Home order and the effort to flatten the curve in Michigan, the Ypsi Pride board needed to regroup and reimagine how we would push our celebration of Pride forward,” said A. Popkey, an organizer who sits on the Ypsi Pride board. “We gained inspiration from other Ypsilanti entertainers like Boylesque and Queeraoke, who were moving forward with shows, so knew that a good virtual show was possible. 

“But also being cooped up inside since mid-March and wanting to bring Pride to the outside world and off the internet felt crucial. The inspiration was mostly just a yearning to reconnect with our community.” 

This huge Pride flag stands at the corner of Cross and College near Boone Hall. (Photo courtesy of Amy Finkenbine)

Pride Begins At Home 

Ypsilantians agreed with Popkey’s sentiment, and they pulled out all the stops to decorate their homes so a walk through almost any Ypsi neighborhood feels like a Pride parade in itself. 

The Ypsi Pride board created the Project YARD (Ypsi Area Rainbow Decorating) Facebook group back in early May as a hub for area residents to share ideas and inspiration, rainbow DIYs, chalk recipes — and, of course, snapshots of their homes, lawns and windows decked out in signs, flags, banners, artwork, and more in every color of the rainbow. 

And the project isn’t limited to Ypsilanti’s residential neighborhoods. Volunteers armed with paint and sidewalk chalk also gathered through the online group to show downtown Ypsi some love too. 

The windows of the Ypsilanti Farmer’s Marketplace beacon love and justice thanks to Project YARD volunteers. (Photo courtesy of A. Popkey)

“We are actually pretty surprised with the amount of people and traction the page has gotten,” said Popkey. “We created it on May 8 and already have over 700 members. I think people have been wanting to connect to one another and see their community, so it started out as just a new way to celebrate Pride.”

Popkey said the board has been “impressed and energized” by the ways people have woven messages against racism and police brutality into their Pride decorations. Many Project YARD participants are displaying Black Lives Matter messages and/or tributes to those we’ve recently lost to systematic patterns of police brutality like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.

“While simply putting up rainbows and banners is by no means going to fix the immense racist, oppressive problems in the country, it’s a place to start. There is still so much work to do,” said Popkey.

Ypsi Pride released a statement on the eve of Pride Month about their commitment to anti-racist work and their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“We as a board knew we needed to stop and redirect — so much of the LBGTQ movement has become whitewashed over the years,” said Popkey. “We recognize that as a mostly white-led board, we have a lot of work to do to decenter whiteness from our organization.”

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Photo courtesy of Kulky Nakai

Community Spotlight: A Vision of Peace 

Ypsi resident Kimmy Johnson said that between herself and her fiancée, she’s always been the more “outwardly decorated” when it comes to Pride. 

This year, though, making a statement with her home display felt especially important. 

“It was so important for us to spread love, peace, hope and maybe even a smile or two in response to all the hate, fear, disappointment and sadness that is currently taking over our country at an alarming pace,” said Johnson. “We had influences from Rainbows Over Michigan, the #blacklivesmatters movement and wanting to show the Pride of who we are. 

“The Ypsilanti community as a whole prides itself on inclusiveness and togetherness. So if anything, we hoped from the road you would see how much love we were feeling right this moment.”

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Johnson, who has lived in the Ypsi/Ann Arbor area for the past 33 years, said that intertwining love, justice, kindness, peace and support in her display was difficult but powerful. 

“Normally, my fiancée Erin and I are so excited about Pride month, but with the climate … we felt empowered by utilizing as many bright colors to symbolize love, not just for our equal love but for the injustices that this world is facing right now,” she said. 

“As if COVID wasn’t already heartbreaking, we now have to once again watch the gut-wrenching and horrible incident occur for the, what is it, millionth time in the Black community, which I know we can never understand. 

“I began painting a rainbow brick road and watching sweet Toby [our cat] walk along the path, and I sat there just melancholy over the place we are in. Thinking about how tough this is. Using lines and bold words and music and whatever I could just to be hopeful that I could spread some message. I know it’s not enough, but I was just hopeful it was something. A sliver.” 

Toby perches on the rainbow brick road. (Photo courtesy of Kimmy Johnson)

Johnson said photos of her window have drawn kind, warm and supportive comments online. 

That window will surely be a visual treat when it’s lit from the inside on Friday night as Johnson takes in Ypsi Pride’s virtual variety show. 

“I’m definitely excited to see what Ypsi does,” she said. “They do such a great job with our community and assuring that we are connected as much as we can be despite these circumstances. That’s what I love about living in Ypsi.” 

You can watch the Virtual Pride livestream from 5-11 p.m. on Friday, June 5 via the Ypsi Pride Facebook page. Also visit their Facebook page for more information on performers, including where to direct tips and donations.

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