Pride in the Park attendees packed Riverbank Park in downtown Flint, Mich. for the city’s annual gay pride celebration on June 25, 2022. Here’s a look into the stories of some of those who celebrated their sexualities this weekend.
“My first time I ever went to pride was my senior year graduating,” said Jasmine Harris, a native of Grand Blanc, Mich. who graduated from Mott Middle College in 2018. “I came down here by myself and made friends and felt like I was a part of a community that had a voice and accepted everyone no matter how they dress, no matter how they identified, no matter how we look on the outside.”
Harris had been confused about her sexuality for most of her life, she said, but after reflecting on her dating experiences and talking through feelings with trusted friends, she came out last year as panromantic and demisexual. That means she’s romantically attracted to people regardless of their gender identity, and sexually attracted to people only after forming strong emotional and soulful bonds with them.
“Love is the opposite of fear, and love and hate go hand in hand, and hate and fear are practically the same thing,” Harris said. “It’s really scary to fear being myself and then hate what other people might think, but instead, I just let let love win.”
“Everybody here is so friendly,” said Hiraet Sage, a resident of Flint, Mich. “I just literally got up there and shook my ass earlier with no fear just because everybody was just having a good time. That’s what Pride is for, it’s just to enjoy who you are and who everybody else is as people. It doesn’t matter your gender, your race, your sexuality. Here, we’re just fucking people, and we love each other.”
“This is the first day I finally feel free,” Erek Hubbard said. “I usually don’t give a fuck or at least I give the appearance like I don’t have a care in the world, but today is the first day where I really don’t. Like, I went to a bar earlier, and some waitress cut my shirt, so now I have a crop top.”
Jenna MacDonald, a native of Davidson, Mich. and a student at the University of Michigan-Flint, first questioned her sexuality when she was 14, she said. Since then, she’s come to identify as pansexual, meaning that she’s attracted to people regardless of their sex or gender identity.
“I have always been a lover,” she said. “I’ve always just loved people, and I guess it’s just really nice to know that I don’t have any boundaries to who I can love. I can love whoever.”
MacDonald, who was at Pride in the Park with her sister selling their handmade jewelry, said she had a moment of clarity about her sexuality last November while she was watching the movie “Hustlers,” in which Jennifer Lopez stars as a stripper.
“I was like, ‘Women — I love women because of J. Lo,'” MacDonald said. “At the time I was on Tinder and Bumble and everything, and a huge step for me was just adding women into my swiping ability.
“No matter your journey through discovering your sexuality, it’s valid. Some people like myself, it takes trauma to really solidify things. For others, they’re just born knowing. Either way, you should feel loved and accepted and know that gender and sexuality is a spectrum. There is no right or wrong.”
Jeremy Willis, born and raised in Flint, Mich., came to Flint’s last Pride festival as a “Bi Butterfly,” he said. This year, he identifies as pansexual because “I want to know someone more on a deeper level,” he said.
“I want to get to know someone beyond the looks and everything. I want to get to know their soul, who they are as human beings. Temporarily, Earth game, of course, but that’s just my spirituality talking.”
For Willis, discovering his sexuality has been a lifelong journey of the soul, he said. He’s always known he wasn’t straight, telling his mother when he was young that he was bisexual. Willis found support from his friends in college, and when he came out in 2019, they made him a cake with a penis on it to celebrate.
“I was a part of anime club, I was on the cosplay club, always into the geeky little stuff, and I was always surrounded by, you know, the gays,” said Willis, who streams video games on Twitch.
Gabe Oullette, a Clio, Mich. resident who identifies as gay, had never been to a Pride festival before Pride in the Park. “It’s a good time,” he said.
Khamilia Clarke, a native of Flint, Mich., practices Christianity and identifies as pansexual.
“For a long time, I tried to convince myself I was straight because everybody kept telling me that being gay was not a good thing,” Clarke said.
“And they would, a lot of times, use religion to justify that. I do believe in God, but I believe that if he created us to love each other, then why we would go to hell for loving each other?”
When Clarke first started having romantic feelings for another girl, she prayed to God to “take this gay away,” she said. But she said she questioned that reflex, thinking at the time, “if these feelings were making me happy, why am I praying for them to go away?”
“Here I am, a gay Christian,” Clarke said. “It’s just very empowering. I feel powerful as fuck.”
Pride in the Park was one of many stops on Detroit resident Deshawn King’s tour of Midwest Pride festivals. King ran away from home the day he came out to his mother when he was 18, moving to Ohio to work at Cedar Point, an amusement park.
“It only helped me grow, you know?” he said. I think everything happens for a reason, and I’m happy that it happened because I wouldn’t be the person that I am today.”
Now, King plans to move to Atlanta in August to further his acting career.
Emerson Reynolds, a resident of Lapeer, Mich. with family ties in Flint, identifies as queer because of how inclusive that label is, she said.
“When I was younger, I knew I had an interest in girls, so I thought maybe I was just bisexual,” Reynolds said. “From that, I kind of lost interest in men and thought I was a lesbian. And then I went to being pansexual until I realized that I didn’t care what somebody was, what they could possibly identify as, I like them for who they are.”
Rigby Ginbd, a resident of Lapeer, Mich., identifies as gender fluid, pansexual, demiromantic and polyamorous, but they said they’re still in the process of figuring out their sexuality.
“I didn’t know you, like, by default were straight,” Ginbd said. “I just thought people liked people, and then I realized that, like no, that’s not the norm, and you had to fit in a box. It was a journey.”
“With all the things that we have to overcome just being Black individuals, but even as someone growing up during HIV/AIDS, and all the people that we’ve lost, I think it’s a powerful testament to claim myself as a Black gay man,” said Kevin Jones, a resident of Saginaw, Mich.
Jones said celebrating Pride was an act of civic participation, given that the day prior, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated the constitutional right to abortion.
“In light of the Roe v. Wade decision, I think there’s a number of reasons why we have to go back to our political roots and our activist roots as a community,” Jones said. “You know, we have so many communities that have been allies to LGBT folks, including heterosexual cisgender women. We need to make sure that we’re showing up in those spaces. As we’re fighting for our own rights, we have to also make sure that we continue to fight for reproductive rights and see that as essential to all of our liberation.”
“I get a little confused because I kind of still grew up in a time where being so out and so open was a bad thing, but it’s different to see it in this way, in an amazing way, because no one has to experience that,” said Andrew Zamora, a resident of Saginaw, Mich. “Now, they get to really experience living their true selves and knowing that your community supports you, your city supports you.
“It was a bit difficult because it was something brand new for my family, so not something they could be sensitive to or even have insight on. We had other homosexual relatives, but not directly in the home where they had to deal with it. It was a rocky start, but it had an amazing finish.”
Although Amiya Johnson, a Flint, Mich. native who identifies as gay, said she felt overwhelmed by the crowd at Pride in the Park, she said the overflow of support felt comforting at the same time. To her, being gay means “loving myself, me being comfortable in my body,” she said, “and maybe even helping others become comfortable with them. I love to help people, and I love making them feel comfortable. So for me, when I see people supporting, and I see people waving their flags, it makes me feel happy.”
Johnson has known she wasn’t straight since middle school, she said, but her understanding of her own sexuality has developed as she’s grown up.
“I was looking at women, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, she’s so pretty,'” Johnson said. “It’s so weird because when you’re young, you want to be the girl. But when you get older, you realize you want to be with the girl. That was a struggle, realizing that I don’t want to be her, I want to be with her.”
When Russ Wager walked into a gay bar for the first time when he was 23, he felt a weight lift off his shoulders, he said.
Wager, a resident of Genesee Township, Mich. who identifies as gay, transferred schools three times because he faced bullying for his sexuality when he was in grade school.
“It was really hard in the back in the day for me, so I celebrate Pride as much as possible for mainly the young people,” he said. “Make it easier for them to be who they are.”
After Pride in the Park, Flint resident Roby Lee and DJ Peter McFray kept the celebration going with an afterparty in Carriage Town.