ANN ARBOR, Mich. - On Aug. 3, Ann Arbor Pride will kick off its annual weekend-long celebration highlighting the diversity and inclusivity of the Ann Arbor community.
Organized by the Jim Toy Community Center, Ann Arbor Pride is celebrating 25 years of Pride and the creation of accepting and inclusive spaces within the area.
But while the celebration only lasts for two days (Aug 3 through Aug. 4), it takes all year to organize sponsors, performers, events and vendors.
We spoke with Ann Arbor Pride co-director Joe Schoch about what goes into Ann Arbor Pride, his role in the celebration and what he thinks Ann Arbor Pride offers to the community.
After starting out as a volunteer in 2016 in the KidsZone, Schoch said he was motivated to do something for the Ann Arbor community after the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting.
“I really just wanted to play an active role in creating a safe space -- a welcoming, open, inclusive, safe space,” said Schoch.
After two years of volunteering and organizing the KidsZone, a space for kids to create crafts and play during Ann Arbor Pride, Schoch transitioned into a leadership role as co-director. Now, he does the supportive behind-the-scenes work before and during Ann Arbor Pride, working with organizers, performers and marketing.
Although jumping from volunteer to co-director is quite a leap, Schoch said it was natural and the transition really aligned with his personal values.
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“I think we do a good job of not only representing Pride but of representing Ann Arbor’s really diverse community within our Pride,” Schoch said.
He added that while some people may have a preconceived notion of what a Pride celebration is supposed to have -- a party with a beer and wine tent, shows and entertainment -- Ann Arbor Pride also hosts fun events like Drag Queen Story Time and face-painting. He feels that Pride brings in more of the community by going beyond assumptions and making it an approachable event for everyone in the community.
“So, if it’s people’s first Pride that they can really ease into it, find their own community, or find a specific event or activity that aligns with what comfortable and familiar to them, ” Schoch said.
Creating an inclusive space is done intentionally, according to Schoch, who said that inclusivity is specifically discussed during planning meetings for the event.
Formerly OutFest, Schoch said that in 2018, the event was rebranded into Ann Arbor Pride so that it was more recognizable and approachable to new members of the community.
At Ann Arbor Pride, attendees will see all types of business and organizations, from local churches to corporate sponsors. While corporate sponsorships at Pride events are currently a controversial topic, Schoch is hopeful Ann Arbor Pride corporate sponsors are genuine in their interest. He hopes that the visibility offered by such sponsors helps to bring others into the community.
Visibility and collaboration from Ann Arbor Pride’s local partners, such as churches, restaurants and businesses to local organizers and entertainment talent, also lends to its yearly success.
Schoch said he often hears how the space has allowed for more and more people to be their authentic selves, especially if it is their first Pride event. He said he is often told how Ann Arbor Pride isn’t the stereotypical event that some first-time attendees anticipate and he is appreciative that people are willing to come in with open minds.
“For people who are coming in, it’s OK if it’s your first Pride. You’re going to have questions. You’re going to see all types of different people,” Schoch said.
Ann Arbor Pride will run from Aug. 3 to Aug. 4 with events like yoga, face-painting, burlesque and its annual Sunday picnic in Wheeler Park.
For a detailed schedule of events and community partners, visit the Ann Arbor Pride website or the Jim Toy Community Center website.
Those interested in volunteering for the event can sign up here.
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