In red Ottawa County, Pride festivals continue to blossom

pride

By Michigan Advance

June 11, 2024

BY SARAH LEACH, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

MICHIGAN—As Pride events are gearing up across Michigan, officials in Ottawa County aren’t entirely sure what to expect, but they’re doing their best to celebrate the LGBTQ community.

“The goal here is to create a welcoming, fun, celebratory space for everyone,” said Kate Leighton-Colburn, executive director of the Holland-based Out on the Lakeshore. “Truly everyone. This is not the opposite of exclusive.”

Grand Haven, which will host its second annual Pride festival on Saturday, will feature live music, food trucks, vendors, a drag show and family-friendly activities.

Despite pushback from the influential Ottawa County GOP, organizers say they aren’t fazed.

“Anyone who has been to any area of Pride has seen what that pushback looks like,” Chelsea Folk, co-chair of the Grand Haven festival, told The Grand Haven Tribune this week. “We’ve not really felt it. We see it. We saw the letter that came out from the Ottawa County GOP, but we have a really great community in Grand Haven.”

The Ottawa GOP called Pride events “devastating” to the local community and inferred that children are victims of “sexual solicitation” at such events.

“Because what happened last year was devastating to the Grand Haven community and Ottawa County at large, we feel a responsibility to inform the public of what took place and are asking our responsible citizenry to please spread awareness,” the GOP said in its May newsletter.

“If you find it important to protect children and preserve family values in Ottawa County, we encourage you to begin to do a deep dive on the candidates running for this year’s election primary on Aug. 6. Incidences, such as the sexual solicitation of children in our county will stop when the people who represent us make sure that it stops.”

The county party, along with the candidates it’s backing are members or supporters of Ottawa Impact, a far-right fundamentalist group formed in 2021 over frustrations with county and state COVID-19 mitigation measures.

The group currently has a six-seat controlling majority on the 11-member board. County commissioners on the board have shared concerns about drag shows and other Pride-related events that all ages can attend.

The OI-led board members have gone so far as to claim that Pride events “promote sexual promiscuity” and “groom children.”

They’ve also repeatedly voiced their displeasure about the county health department having a presence at Pride events.

“At a time in our nation’s history where trust in healthcare systems are under question, I wonder why our department of public health is choosing to participate in Grand Haven’s Pride Festival,” Commissioner Allison Miedema said at a meeting last June. “By being in attendance, the (OCDPH) is promoting sexual promiscuity, which in turn, can contribute to future clients of public health who will be seeking positive STD testing along with mental health services.”

Administrative Health Officer Adeline Hambley—who the board attempted to demote and later fire before agreeing to allow her to stay in her role earlier this year to settle a lawsuit—said the department plans to have the same presence it always has at Pride events.

“We will have a booth to provide [monkeypox] vaccinations and education, as well as materials and information on our STDs and family planning clinic,” Hambley told the Advance. “It’s just like all previous years—we’re not a sponsor.”

The board, led by Chair Joe Moss and Vice Chair Sylvia Rhodea, who jointly founded the Ottawa Impact political action committee three years ago, championed a resolution last year that claims to “protect child innocence” by prohibiting county staff and resources from being used for “activities, programs, events, contents or institutions which support, normalize, or encourage the sexualization of youth.”

It’s unclear if Moss and Rhodea plan to invoke the resolution in response to the OCDPH’s participation in Pride events this year. As part of her settlement agreement with the county that was reached in February, Hambley has additional legal rights through the end of the year should the county attempt to fire her again.

In the meantime, she said she plans to do her job to serve the entire community.

“Our plan is to move forward as we always have,” Hambley said. “We provide services to everyone.”

Leighton-Colburn said the Holland festival, which takes place on June 29, will feature a 5K walk/run, a party in Centennial Park as well as performances, a signature cocktail stuff and a speaker series.

“We have an intergenerational panel to talk about the similarities and differences between generations of queer communities and what we can learn from each other,” she said, as well as a forum to discuss the AIDS epidemic that peaked in the 1980s and ‘90s. “We’ll have some folks who were kind of in the thick of it during that time, and we’ll have some folks there to talk through the medical advances, as well.”

She said Pride is important to the queer community to make sure everyone feels a sense of belonging.

“We want to make sure that Holland is a place where everyone can thrive,” she said. “I think celebratory events like this, they boost morale, they bring people together and, in the end, the community as a whole is all the better for it.”

Pride Month Events

For a full list of Pride events in Grand Haven and Holland, visit ghpride.org/festival or outonthelakeshore.org/holland-pride.

READ MORE: ‘Everything to lose’: Michigan leaders warn about Trump’s threats to LGBTQ rights

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license.

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