Lansing Pride’s Ben Dowd: From rural town to toast of the town


Ben Dowd grew up in the shadow of a non-defunct air force base in Oscoda, Michigan. Wurtsmith Air Force Base was decommissioned in 1993, straddling Iosco and Oscoda counties in northeastern Michigan. It was not a place where being an openly gay man would have been welcomed. 

He escaped to Central Michigan University, where he slowly began to open his closet door, revealing his authentic self to the world. 

“Being on a college campus made it somewhat better,” Dowd, 40, said. “I found my voice in being an active volunteer.”

Dowd, whose day job is associate director and CEO of the Community Economic Development Association, has worked with HIV organizations in New York and local organizations in Lansing. He’s also the president of the Old Town Commercial Association and has served on the board of the LGBTQ+ professional group Suits in the City.

And for the last two years, he’s been president of Lansing Pride, which will hold its second festival this weekend in Old Town. The event will feature music, performances, vendors and family-friendly areas, including a drag queen story hour. 

Dowd and the Pride team are well aware that drag performances and trans communities are under assault by rightwing advocates. The latest in Michigan was three weeks ago, when members of the hate group Proud Boys protested outside an all-ages drag show in a church in Portage, in Kalamazoo County. Last year saw a drumbeat of political assaults on trans and gender non-conforming people from school board candidates to GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon. Elsewhere, states have passed anti-trans legislation controlling what medical treatment youth can access and prohibiting minors from seeing drag shows. In Florida, lawmakers expanded a so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law to include all K-12 education classes. 

But the continuing backlash doesn’t deter Dowd and the Lansing Pride team. “We’re obviously a very drag-friendly organization,” he said. But that doesn’t mean the group is not taking precautions. They have been working with officials from the Lansing Police Department on a security plan. The group’s family zone will be a fenced-in area at Turner Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue featuring LPD community officers and children’s activities. There will also be a drag queen story hour that will feature reading, dancing and more for children. 

He said the activities will be “like a big dress up and imagination” even for children and families. “We want to give families and parents the opportunity to show that they support this,” he said, “because it’s an act of love and support.”

Lansing Pride continues the festival tradition that was started by Michigan Pride, which for many years attracted the LGBTQ+ community to Lansing from around the state. But with hundreds of Pride events in Michigan, attendance fell off. Michigan Pride continues with speakers at the Capitol noon to 2 p.m. June 25. Neither group is sponsoring the march to the Capitol that was once a mainstay of Michigan Pride.

Dowd got recruited to help birth a new festival by Dee Clark, a drag queen known in the community as Delicious. Dowd was a referral because of his years volunteering in Old Town putting together successful festivals in the artistic enclave north of downtown. He told Delicious he could put together a festival, but that that it needed to be more than just a festival. 

“We need to have a mission and a vision that’s different than what is already happening to do that,” he remembers telling Delicious. “Really, our vision is that we become an organization that is a catalyst in Lansing for other LGBTQ groups that are doing wonderful work in different silos. This is the space to bring that all together.”

With that mission in mind, Lansing Pride met with organizers of the city’s Juneteenth celebration to prevent stepping on each other’s events. The two organizations agreed to cross-promote each other’s events.  (Learn about area Juneteenth events.)

“It’s the first time there has been a deliberate and conscious decision to cooperate between the two events,” he said. “It was simply, ‘This is wonderful let’s promote each other. Let’s make sure that there’s a voice of inclusion across the city.’”



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