The Queer Advocacy Coalition, a student organization at the University of Michigan that partners with other LGBTQIA+ groups for advocacy and educational opportunities, hosted a Pride and Sexual Health and Wellness event Saturday on the Diag. Due to thunderstorms in June, the event was rescheduled to July.
Along with celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community, tables of multiple organizations presented information on sexual health education and resources. Organizations represented included the Spectrum Center, Queer Advocacy Coalition, Office of Institutional Equity, UNIFIED HIV Health and Beyond, Planned Parenthood, Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health (MOASH), SAGE Metro Detroit and Hayner Recall Campaign.
The event also included performances by LGBTQIA+ artists such as 26-year-old anarchist musician Premium Rat, songwriter Marguerite Alexis Ferrera and University of Michigan alum Reena Peng. Other performances included poetry by queer artist Patrick Mullen-Coyoy along with local drag performers Zooey Gaychanel — who is the founder of Heads Over Heels Drag & Variety Shows — and improvisational drag artist Elle.
Amy Belfer, co-president of the Queer Advocacy Coalition, discussed how celebrating Pride was a form of resilience.
“We’re here and we’re queer,” Belfer said. “Just to really celebrate the LGBTQIA+ communities, be proud and have a presence in the community…especially in the wake of all the anti-LGBT crime legislation in many states (is) basically saying that we’re not going to step down. We’re going to keep fighting, and we’re going to keep celebrating who we are.”
Bethany VanderPloeg, vice-chair of the Queer Advocacy Coalition Executive Board, explained that, along with a celebration of identity, this event also served as an opportunity to provide sexual health education.
“The (LGBTQIA+) community is left out of the classroom setting at times, especially when it comes to sex ed and safe sex information and resources. So we wanted to make sure to incorporate that,” VanderPloeg said. “We also really wanted to focus on having it be a celebration and seeing like the queer community that’s in Ann Arbor come together and be able to celebrate”
Event organizers also introduced state Senator Jeff Irwin, a Democrat who represents Ann Arbor, and state Senator Jeremy Moss, a Democrat who represents southern Oakland County. Both senators discussed legislation that would address inequalities that impact the LGBTQIA+ community in Michigan.
Irwin said Ann Arbor has a long tradition of being welcoming, and he wants to carry values of inclusivity into his legislative advocacy.
“I want you to know that when I’m in Lansing, representing this community, that I carry those values,” Irwin said. “I carry those progressive ethics up to Lansing, and then I’m loud and proud on behalf of inclusion and on behalf of LGBT+ rights here in the state of Michigan.”
Irwin also spoke about how Michigan is one of the few states where discrimination against LGBT+ individuals is still prevalent and that there must be a change in Michigan’s Elliot Larson Civil Rights Act to ensure a fully inclusive law.
“Everyone is welcome here in our state. Everyone here is welcome to go to a hotel or restaurant or seek housing and not be discriminated (against) for who they are,” Irwin said.
Moss, Michigan’s first and only openly gay State Senator, said that he was pushing for more inclusivity in legislation and spoke to the audience about the importance of involvement in politics to achieve equality and progress.
“Before you groan at another politician speaking, I don’t care,” Moss said. “You have to get political…the only way we’re going to achieve progress is if you get political in this fight. We don’t have any other choice. As a community, these political fights always come to us.”
Moss said past legislation created economic, political and social barriers against members of the LGBTQIA+ community including regulations on same-sex marriage, state laws that prevent same-sex couples from adopting children and laws that prevent housing and employment stability for members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
“So all these things that we’ve pushed forward have been political fights we didn’t ask for, but we’re ready to be on the battlefield, fighting for our rights as a community,” Moss said. “There’s never been a clear voice talking about our lived experiences before. (Politicians) make decisions about us, but it’s important that we’re at the table rather than on the menu.”
Moss said that he introduced a resolution simply to declare June as LGBTQ pride month, which he said the Republican majority blocked in the past. Moss said that the simple recognition of the LGBTQIA+ community by the state of Michigan has been a very long political fight.
“Pride is a celebration,” Moss said. “But don’t forget, pride began as a liberation against hate and discrimination that our community has faced.”
Daily Staff Reporter Nirali Patel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.