Street Talk: Pride’s progress


The Grand Rapids Pride Center will show the city the meaning of LGBTQ pride this week.

The 501(c)3 nonprofit LGBTQ resource center at 343 Atlas Ave. SE is preparing to host its 28th Annual Grand Rapids Pride Festival. This year’s festival will be its “largest in history,” featuring nationally recognized talent, said Mike Hemmingsen, president of the center.

“We’re beyond excited about the series of events that we have planned for this year’s festival, especially Saturday’s concert featuring nationally renowned acts,” he said. “It is exciting to see the organization and larger community heading in such a positive direction, and we plan to demonstrate this progress throughout the festival.”

The festival has been expanded to include more events and big names, Hemmingsen said. The center’s second annual White Party, with attendees all dressed in white, will kick off the festival, beginning at 9 p.m. June 17, at Rumors Night Club, 69 S. Division Ave. downtown. There will be a $10 cover charge for ages 21 and up and a $20 cover charge for ages 18-20.

On June 18, the festival will feature a family-friendly street fair and the Concert on the Calder on Ottawa Avenue NW, between Michigan and Lyon streets. Festivities kick off at noon with opening remarks from Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.

The street fair will include local performers, beer tents, local vendors and children’s activities. Sponsors include Steelcase Inc., Herman Miller Inc., Spectrum Health and Founders Brewing Co. Admission will be $5.

“We have expanded the festival area,” Hemmingsen said. “The festival vendors will stretch along Ottawa, from Lyon to Michigan, allowing us to have more than 100 vendors displaying their products and services to show support for the LGBTQ community.”

The Concert on the Calder will begin at 3 p.m. and will include performances by Steve Grand, Alex Newell and other local artists, and a headline performance by Deborah Cox. The concert will run until midnight. Tickets for the concert are $20 and can be purchased online at

The Grand Rapids Pride Festival will wrap up Sunday, June 19, with a block party outside The Apartment Lounge. The block party will include a kid-friendly activity center outside Grand Rapids Children’s Museum.

Putting on a festival like this requires a lot of hands on deck, Hemmingsen said.

“This year we have a Pride Festival committee of more than 30 members, and it will take approximately 150 volunteers to host the event. Our expected attendance for this year is approximately 10,000,” he said.

“We are expecting this event to become a platform to celebrate and educate people on the LGBTQ community, whether they are allies or identify as LGBTQ. Every year we have several people tell us stories of how they met their husband, wife or significant other at the event, or how this was part of their coming-out process.”

The Grand Rapids Pride Center will, for the second time, give two awards to deserving friends of the Grand Rapids LGBTQ community. Ed Ladner is the recipient of the newly re-named Milt Lennox Community Award. Ladner and Lennox opened the downtown gay bar The Apartment Lounge in 1979 and have always been exceptional partners of the Grand Rapids Pride Center since its inception in 1988, Hemmingsen said.

“Milt passed away last year, and we renamed the community award in his honor. Ed and Milt would have been together 52 years this spring, and we felt it was only fitting for Ed to receive the first award after its renaming,” Hemmingsen said. “Ed and Milt have always been about community, and that legacy is continued with the new owner of The Apartment Lounge, Bob Johnson.”

The center will name Arbor Circle the recipient of the Pride Award. Arbor Circle has been a important partner for the Grand Rapids Pride Center, not only to help secure a grant for its new Safe and Supported Program from the Our LGBT Fund, but also as a resource for the center’s LGBTQ homeless and at-risk youth, Hemmingsen said.

The center offers social and support groups for LGBTQ individuals in the forms of a youth homelessness program, an LGBTQ resource/business directory and a career development program. Its mission also includes educating individuals on LGBTQ struggles, successes and contributions to the Grand Rapids community.

Things are slowly changing for the better, Hemmingsen said, although several transgender inequalities still exist, such as access to proper health care and insurance, employment protections for all LGBTQ, and ensuring the safety of these individuals.

“Yes, we are making progress toward full equality; however, we have a ways to go. I, along with the board of the Grand Rapids Pride Center and several LGBTQ community leaders, am committed to continuing the efforts to make this a reality,” Hemmingsen said.

“My personal enjoyment for the festival comes from seeing all the unique individuals and their families celebrating where we have been and where we are going as a community.”

Family business

For the first time in two dozen years, the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, or the Gun Lake Tribe, has a new chairperson.

Leah Sprague-Fodor was selected by the Tribal Council to serve as chairperson earlier this month.

“I am honored and proud to serve as the chairperson of the tribe,” said Sprague-Fodor. “My focus will remain on the well-being of our elders, our children and the entire tribal community as one extended family. I look forward to continuing the legacy of leadership handed down to me by our ancestors who worked hard to keep our community together here in our homelands.”

One ancestor, in particular, most likely had plenty of influence.

Sprague-Fodor is taking the reins from her father, D.K. Sprague, who retired in January after serving as the tribe’s chairman for 24 years.

Sprague-Fodor was one of the first two staff members hired by the tribe in the early 1990s. She held the position of member services director for a majority of her time in tribal government. Prior to federal recognition, the tribal community had virtually no resources, according to Sprauge-Fodor. Today, the tribe has become a modern government with a staff of more than 100 that serves its people through a wide variety of programs and services, she said.

Sprague-Fodor was elected to the tribal council in 2012 as a representative of the Salem District. During her time on council the tribe successfully refinanced Gun Lake Casino debt and then paid off the debt entirely; successfully petitioned the U.S. Congress to pass a law to clarify that the casino parcel was lawfully taken into trust; and opened the Government Campus, which serves as the tribe’s capitol building.

Cyber sleuths

Are you familiar with ransomware? If not, Danny Cook would like to meet you.

Cook is a task force officer with the FBI’s Cyber Squad, based in Detroit. He and Michael Hornbaker, security product specialist for CISCO, will be on the lakeshore next week for an Executive Luncheon and Cyber Security Forum from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday, June 22, at Muskegon Country Club, 2801 Lakeshore Drive.

Michele Ringelberg, vice president of creative services at NeXt I.T., which is sponsoring the event along with Shoreline Insurance, said attendees can expect to learn about actual security threats and case studies — including the dreaded ransomware — as well as the top security threats to businesses and what measures can be taken to mitigate those threats.

The event is free. Reservations can be made by visiting or calling (866) 388-6398.

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