Fade in ambiance of chanting: “Love Wins!”
ROBYN: Jenn Cameron will never forget the gay pride parade in Traverse City last year.
JENN: I was on the, the start car, my friend Gary’s 1972 Chevy pick-up.
ROBYN: Standing on top of that pick-up, all Jenn could see was people. People everywhere. Six blocks, sidewalk to sidewalk, of marchers with rainbow flags. All Jenn could think was—
JENN: Oh my gosh! This thing has a life of its own!
Audio of the song “Dancing Queen” playing through speakers fades up underneath chanting.
ROBYN: When Jenn co-founded Up North Pride in 2014, only 300 people came out for the parade. The next year, 1200. And the day Jenn stood on that pick-up truck, over 3000 people showed up in support of LGBT rights.
JENN: Oh my god! We’re all in this together! All of these people! This is our community!
Narration pauses, and chanting and music fades up for a few seconds, then fades to silence.
ROBYN: Now, it’s less than a month to the fourth parade and there’s one thought Jenn just can’t shake–
JENN: Pride’s not enough.
ROBYN: Even though Jenn co-founded the largest pride festival in Northern Michigan, it’s only a start.
JENN: We need direct services for this population. It’s so—it’s densely rural, right? And so, what I know from being a kid out in the country is, the closer you get to the city, maybe the better the resources are and the likelihood of acceptance.
ROBYN: Let’s rewind a bit. Jenn grew up in a small town in Texas.
JENN: I really had no idea why I felt so different.
ROBYN: Turns out, Jenn wasn’t the only one who felt that way.
JENN: My best friend, he came out to me. And I said, “Hey, that’s a great idea. Can I come with you?”
ROBYN: After college, Jenn got married and settled down in Northern Michigan. Discrimination wasn’t really a problem, but there wasn’t a hub for LGBT folks, either. The idea for Up North Pride came from Jenn’s friend, Krista, who called Jenn one day to ask if Traverse City had a gay Pride parade.
JENN: And so I asked my friend, my friends Gary and Allison. I said, “Hey Gary, do you think we could throw a pride event at your bar?” And he said “sure— every month!” And I said, “No Gary, let’s just start with one event.”
ROBYN: But like Jenn was saying earlier, the festival has a life of its own. It’s no longer just a parade. This year, there’s a block party… and a picnic and a pride bike ride. Pride yoga. A candlelight vigil to mark the Orlando Shootings… the list goes on. And even though Jenn gets help from volunteers, some days, it’s just too much.
JENN: I’m gonna take a nap. I think I’m actually gonna take a nap today, because I’m feeling a little worn. Umm… no, I’m probably not, actually.
ROBYN: And even working to the point of exhaustion—
JENN: Pride’s not enough.
ROBYN: So let’s be clear– Jenn’s not saying that Pride festivals aren’t important. They build community and show LGBT folks that they’re not alone… but that community needs more than just a week of celebration, Jenn says. They need direct services that Up North Pride can’t provide.
JENN: We’ve got so many young people out in the woods, so to speak, that are struggling. Who are being bullied at school and in their homes so much that they, you know, are either kicked out or, you know, leave. The question is, what can we do now, today, because that— the need doesn’t change.
ROBYN: So Jenn keeps going. This year’s festival will be the biggest yet. And Jenn will be at the head of the parade, riding in the back of Gary’s pick-up truck… And the day after?
JENN: I will be on my little deck, looking out at the bay, sipping, lemonade, hanging out with my wife… and taking a nap.
ROBYN: For Interlochen Public Radio, I’m Robyn Di Giacinto.
This story was originally produced at the June 2017 Transom Traveling Workshop at Interlochen Center for the Arts. It was aired by Interlochen Public Radio on June 23, 2017.