April 15 2009 12:00 AM

Organizers regroup, reach out to keep annual festival going


This year the organizers of the statewide gay pride festival and march, an annual Lansing event, almost threw in the towel.

The board "put out there on the Web site, Facebook, MySpace, ’We’re considering not having the festival, and here’s why,’” said Lansing businesswoman Monique Goch, a new member of Michigan Pride, which runs the event.

The reasons: a slumped economy and a tough 2008 in which two key sponsors pulled out just weeks before the event.

But Goch said the board got an overwhelming response from people asking the leadership to please go forward with the event and even offering to volunteer. As a result, this year’s Pride Festival already has 82 volunteers compared to last year’s 25.

Goch, a leader of Suits and the City, a networking club for LGBT professionals, was asked in March to join the Pride board as outreach coordinator. Since then she’s been putting her connections to work, forming a subcommittee to round up sponsors and community support for this year’s Pride. “Large sponsorships are few and far between now,” Goch said. “It used to be you’d have sponsorships of considerable size from auto dealers, banks. That went way down. Even the national sponsors have gone down. So our object is to reach out to the community.”

Goch said contracts are also in place with all of this year’s sponsors to avoid a repeat of last year’s lastminute defections, which cost the festival $11,000 it had already budgeted for. One debt the board has been working to pay down gradually since 2008 is a $6,000 bill to Lansing’s Radisson Hotel, which now stands at $3,800.

To help pay off that debt, organizers are hosting a Keep Pride Alive brunch and silent auction Sunday at the Radisson, sponsored by LGBT organizations and allies, including Suits and the City, Spiral Video Dance Bar, the Old Town Commercial Association, the Lansing Area AIDS network and City Pulse.

Goch said 125 donations have already been made toward the event, totally around $3,200 in gift cards, services and items. “I’m relatively sure it’s going to wipe out the debt, plus have another couple thousand to go toward the festival,” Goch said.

In year’s past, Goch said the Pride Festival has cost as much as $90,000, depending on national talent and how many attend. Last year’s festival cost about $68,000. This year’s budget will be scaled back to between $30,000 and $50,000, depending on how much sponsorship can be brought in.

Despite the reduced budget, Goch expects a boost in attendance due to the festival’s returning to Father’s Day weekend (June 13), which means it won’t compete with the draw of nearby Chicago Pride events, and a possible radio promotion deal with stations in Lansing, Grand Rapids and Detroit.

Expenses will be cut back by dropping the annual pre-festival comedy show, which Goch said has seen dwindling crowds in recent years, because of the number of other pre-parties and fundraising events the same night. Goch said the comedy event would be replaced with a White Party held in Old Town. Partiers, who are encouraged to dress in white, will get a white wristband, which will allow them to hop between the neighborhood’s LGBT establishments Esquire Club, Spiral and Chrome Cat as well as the Grand Café.

Goch explained that the idea of wearing all white was started about 20 years ago as a symbol of purity, and is being incorporated into the pre-party as a sign of unity for the entire LGBT community.

The party also serves as an unofficial test run of what Goch said Pride organizers hope will be a major move for next year’s festival from Riverfront Park to the streets of Old Town. Goch said Old Town will already be a destination for Pride visitors this year, because of the "after" parties that will be held at the clubs there, and the Old Town Commercial Association has been “instrumental” in helping to get things organized.

Another uncertainty about this year’s festival was the annual parade, because construction projects will obstruct marchers from traveling their normal course from Riverfront Park along Grand Avenue en route to the State Capitol. “We weren’t going to be able to have the march, which essentially is one of the most important activities of the entire festival,” Goch said.

But with the help of community leaders, including At-Large City Councilwoman Carol Wood, Goch said a new route has been developed. Starting at Riverfront Park, marchers will head west on Shiawassee Street, then either south on Washington Square to Michigan Avenue or to Capitol Avenue and on to the Capitol steps.

In the meantime, Goch and her fellow board members are putting in the hours to make sure everything’s in place by mid- June, trading upward of 100 e-mails a day. “I didn’t know it’d be so much, but it’s enjoyable, also,” she said.

Keep Pride Alive Brunch

Noon-3 p.m. Sunday, April 19 Radisson Hotel, 111 N. Grand Ave., Lansing $20 advance/$25 at door www.michiganpride.org