Pride Festival marks 31 years of progress and challenge

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Downtown Grand Rapids was bursting with pride Saturday as the annual festival brought thousands out to hear music, speakers and celebrate inclusion.

Saturday marked the 31st Pride Festival taking place two weeks before the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, where gay rights came into the public consciousness.

The festival is a celebration of strides made — as well as a reminder of the work to be done.

Music, poetry, wild fashions and flourishes of color were side by side with statements of inclusion and even free mom hugs.

Grand Rapids Pride Center officials estimated at least 12,000 people came out despite some drizzly precipitation.

Pride Fest is now seen as a place for businesses to find new markets.

Businesses like Meijer, MSU Federal Credit Union, Huntington and Chase banks and State Farm set up shop at the festival.

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss also kicked off the main stage.

“There are so many things about this city that I love, but what I love most are the people,” Bliss told the crowd.

This festival is no longer the fringe celebration it was three decades ago.

“We’ve got some really great sponsors and some great organizations behind it that you didn’t have 30 years ago, so you definitely have a wider community behind it,” said Kayden Grinwis, Grand Rapids Pride board member.

But that doesn’t mean that there is no longer a need for this kind of display for the LGBTQ community.

 “We’ve come a long way, but our LGBTQ community can still be fired from their jobs, denied housing and a number of other pieces just because of who they are. It’s just as critical now as it ever was,” Grinwis said.

While Pride Festival is the center’s most visible outreach, there are services offered to people and youths year-round.

The Red Project was also there giving free HIV testing.

“You never know if you don’t get tested for one. For two, it’s better to know so you can let other people know so you’re just not blindsiding people,” said Audra Belser, a Red Project volunteer.

The testing is done in the Red Project’s mobile testing unit.

A drop of blood is all it takes and about three minutes later, the results are in.

Beyond HIV and STD testing, the Red Project also provides clean needles, condoms and training on how to use the overdose antidote Narcan.

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