GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As millions celebrate Pride Month, the Grand Rapids Pride Festival made its return on Saturday. Thousands of people filled Calder Plaza to celebrate Pride in person for the first time since 2019.

Organizers said 20,000 people came out to Grand Rapids Pride in 2019. It was virtual last year, but Saturday, Calder Plaza was packed for the festival’s return.

“This is incredible,” volunteer Taylor Vanderlaan said. “Lines are just backed out to streets. It’s awesome.”

Clare Bunton and Brittney Leahy were among the thousands attending.

“I think the Pride events are the happiest events throughout the whole year,” Bunton said.

“I think it’s just amazing seeing everybody so comfortable in their own skin,” Leahy said. “It’s such an accepting, wonderful event.”

The FBI has found the number of hate crimes targeting LGBTQ+ people has risen in recent years, especially against transgender people.

“The hate crimes are so much higher with them,” Vanderlaan said. “And it doesn’t need to be. With them being more vulnerable, we gotta make sure that everyone is equal, even the ones who get it the worst.”

Vanderlaan is seeing progress with acceptance in West Michigan.

“I go back to my hometown, and I see rainbow flags on churches, and I see progress and hope,” Vanderlaan said. “Having an event like this, all these supporters in my hometown where I’d never thought they’d be, it’s very awesome. It makes me want to stay here.”

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, who brought his family to Pride, told the crowd the Whitmer administration will fight to protect them.

“This is the kind of Michigan we want to build,” Gilchrist said. “Where it’s connected, when everybody’s recognized and respected.”

Gilchrist said he wants to “stand tall for the LGBTQ community and for Michigan.”

“We support just full recognition of everyone’s humanity,” Gilchrist said. “We’re gonna do everything in our power to make sure they’re respected and protected everywhere in every community in the state of Michigan. I brought my entire family with me, my wife and children because I want them to know the whole Gilchrist family has their back.”

DeeDee Chaunte is a local entertainer at Rumors nightclub. For Chaunte, who hosted the festival, Pride is essential for visibility.

“Today’s event allows people from all different walks in life to come into a space that they normally would not step into,” Chaunte said. “They get to see we’re just people that have rights and want them just as everybody else.”

Chaunte said that “we are here, we are in the community, and we’re not going anywhere.”

“So it’s so fun to be able to see everybody here being their authentic selves,” Chaunte said. “From little kids all the way up to seniors.”

People of different walks of life were there Saturday, united together to celebrate Pride.

Javier Meijas, who attended the festival, was pleased with the huge turnout from allies.

“Even if they aren’t LGBT, they’re here showing their support, and that means a lot to all of us,” Meijas said.

Meijas was touched by the number of parents who were there in support of their LGBTQ+ children.

“You see everybody wearing shirts that say, ‘hugs from mom, hugs from dad,’ Meijas said. “A lot of people don’t have moms and dads to support that. The fact people are out here giving that support means a lot.”

Pride is about “embracing people for being people,” Chaunte said.

Vanderlaan said Pride is about “more than just surviving the day.”

“It’s making the most out of my life and being authentic and not hiding.”