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PRIDE in a Small Town

by Allison Rice 3 months ago in Pride Month
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Over the weekend, my tiny hometown hosted its second-annual Pride festival!

SJ PRIDEFEST 2022

I haven’t lived there in more than 32 years, but today I am so very PROUD to share the PRIDE that I have in my hometown of St. Johns, Michigan. This weekend, the small, rural, Midwestern, agricultural town where I grew up (population 7920,) hosted their second annual PRIDEFEST!

Celebrating the freedom to love and be loved!

I was 2300 miles away at my home in the suburban Seattle area, but from what I gather from reading posts on social media, and from talking to friends who still live in the area, it was a hit! I understood from speaking to some of the organizers, that last year’s inaugural event drew an unexpectedly high number of around 350 participants, thanks largely to the work being done by the St. Johns Call-In Coalition. The grassroots group was created during the pandemic with a focus on building "a more inclusive, healthier and safer community." For the first PRIDE event, merchants and attendees painted windows of downtown businesses, and used chalk to write colorful, inclusive messages. It was generally considered to be quite a successful occasion.

Given the positive engagement that the first event brought, this year’s festival gained quite a bit more momentum: with more businesses involved, more promotion and awareness, several hundred people participating – maybe even a thousand!

Attendees at the 2022 SJ Pridefest

Added to the mix, apparently, were two very lonely protesters who, despite having a bullhorn that they were using to try to shout over the fun, were largely ignored by the folks that attended. Though I’m told that the police were keeping a close eye on them, and no incidents were reported.

Two lonely protesters, with police patrolling

On social media, the positive, supportive, and even joyfully exuberant comments far outstripped a few negative remarks, and I was quite pleased to observe that admins quickly removed the one homophobic comment that an internet troll posted. Bright, smiling, colorful, joyful words and photos far outnumbered any dissent and negativity, however.

Love Wins!

There were crafts, food, vendors, music, and local businesses set up booths, tables, and merchandise out in front of their downtown shops. Several businesses not located in the downtown business district had special events and activities as well. Local organic craft chocolatiers, Oh Mi Organics, whose location is right in the heart of downtown, taped off a side of their building and outlined an area on their exterior wall to be painted with a bright, colorful mural made from rainbow-colored handprints applied by members of the public.

Visitors added handprints to the Pride mural!

Oh Mi Owners show the space prepped for the Pride Mural

One such family, which was comprised of two moms and their young child, added their three handprints to the mural, then one of the moms posted photos in a local Facebook group. She shared that she and her wife and daughter were new to the area, but that they felt incredibly welcomed and loved by their new community. That’s pretty great for a place that has about quadruple the number of churches as it does traffic lights.

When I was growing up there, in the 70s and 80s, St. Johns was the type of place that had a Welcome Wagon that came to visit the homes of new residents bringing coupons, a phone book, an in-person welcome, and often a casserole, baked goods, Jell-O salad, and invitation to church. I didn’t really expect such an old-fashioned practice to still exist, but I’m extremely gratified to hear that the city has found new ways to be inclusive and hospitable to all residents and visitors - particularly those who identify as LGBTQAI+.

MSU Pride & LGBTQAI Pride!

Well done, you guys! I hope that more communities of all sizes will follow your excellent example! It's a really lovely way to provide a safe place for all to find community, resources and allies, and I can’t wait to see what you will do next year!

The PRIDE rainbow covers everyone!

Pride Month

About the author

Allison Rice

Finalist 2022 V+ Fiction Awards, Allison Rice is a work in progress! Author of 5 previous Top Story honors including “Immigrants Among Us” "Pandemic ABCs" and a piece about Inclusion, Alli is an avid reader, and always has a story to tell!

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Comments (2)

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  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran3 months ago

    I absolutely loved this!

  • A lovely inclusive loving story

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