Ortonville Community Comes Together for Abigail’s Pride
(Crystal A. Proxmire, June 11, 2022)
Ortonville, MI – At the northern edge of Oakland County, in a village of less than 1,500 people, hundreds gathered Saturday for the community’s first LGBTQ+ Pride event called Abigail’s Pride in honor of it’s founder, Abigail Rowe, who is a student at Brandon High School.
Baigail grew up in Ortonville and is active in choir and Girl Scouts. She knew about Pride events in other cities – like Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Ferndale. So for her Girl Scout community service project she wanted to do the same in her hometown. It took a couple years to pull together, but Saturday she and a crew of volunteers were finally able to pull it off.
The event kicked off with a parade on South Street and Mill Street, where community groups and politicians handed out information, candy, rainbow stickers and more. Many of the participants in the parade and watching from the sidewalks were teens and young adults donning rainbow colored outfits and giving hugs of support to friends and neighbors.
Krystina Tibbits “bawled through the whole thing.”
Tibbits grew up in Ortonville, a place where she had a supportive family but longed for a more inclusive community.
“I saw the light posts wrapped in rainbows and that’s when I just lost it. I can’t believe this is my hometown,” she said. When asked what seeing the rainbows meant for her, Tibbits said “It’s how you know you’re not alone. When you see a rainbow you know there are other people like you and who support you.”
“You see your colors, and you see your people. Like this is where I belong,” chimed in Ani Simerson who came from the mid-Michigan town of Sanford to attend. “It’s like, yes, I’m home.”
When the parade ended, visitors filled the downtown to check out vendors and sidewalk sales from the local businesses. Kim Hill of Hill Floral Décor Studio sat at a sparkly rainbow decorated table in front of her floral and décor shop with candles and other gift items for sale.
While there had been some negativity on social media over the event, Hill said “Nearly everything I’ve seen has been very positive. She’s had her business in Downtown Ortonville for four years, and grew up here. “I’m a hometown girls from a hometown family and I just love seeing people come out and support each other, and bring all this positivity to the downtown.”
Also among the vendors were community groups with tables, including Oakland University’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA). Claire Childers and President Patrick Henkel were there handing out brochures and pinwheels with a QR code on them for more information. “We help create a safe space for all on campus,” Henkel said. Among the activities are events, crafts, educational events, coming out monologues, poetry readings and even drag shows. “For queer students who are coming from areas that are not as accepting, we let them know there are people like you here,” Henkel said.
“I know what it’s like to be in the closet,” he said. “I couldn’t come out in high school, but when I got to OU and found other students like me, then I was able come out and be myself.”
“We want everyone to feel welcome and be themselves,” Childers said.
Closer to home, the Brandon Township Public Library is doing what it can to show support for LGBTQ+ residents and those who want to know more about sexual orientation, gender identity, diversity and more. Sara Ault is the Collections Manager at the Library and she spent time on Saturday staffing a booth with information at the event. “We make sure we have representation for a variety of materials,” Ault said. “Everybody should be able to walk into their local library and find a books that interests them.”
Abigail’s Pride also featured an area for speakers and musicians, including the Brandon High School Choir. Rowe talked about why she started the event, and thanked those who had come to help and to enjoy the event. Attorney Amanda Shelton, who is running for Oakland County Circuit Court Judge was also there. She recalled staring the Gay and Lesbian Law Caucus at Wayne State University, and the choice of whether she would hide that fact on resumes or not. Those around her feared she may be overlooked for jobs because of the affiliation, but Shelton was determined to be open about who she was. And she found success in her field.
“Coming out is a brave thing to do. Coming out is a political thing to do. Representation matters,” she said.
Several at the event expressed that Pride is not just about feeling good and being proud of yourself, but being open so others can know they are not alone. “It’s all about visibility,” Simerson told Oakland County Times. “People grow up queer and there’s this moment when you question it or deny it. Then you realize it, and once you realize it you can’t stop knowing it. So seeing the rainbow flag, and seeing people come out to something like this, is how you know that you’re not alone.”
Rowe hopes Abigail’s Pride will become an annual event. Visit https://abigailspride.godaddysites.com for more information.