LOWELL, Mich. — The Showboat City is ready to show its support for the LGBTQ+ community.
“I cannot believe almost a year later that it’s actually happening,” said Nicole Lintemuth, Lowell PRIDE founder.
On Saturday, Lowell PRIDE, an organization dedicated to organizing LGBTQ+ events in Lowell, will host the city’s first-ever celebration event. In addition to speakers throughout the afternoon, including a drag queen story hour and LGBTQ+ 101 panel, over 40 vendors, crafters and nonprofits will be set up along the riverwalk.
“I think just being able to give that opportunity to the kids and families in Lowell is just very special to me because I know what a difference that can make,” said Lintemuth, who is bisexual.
Craig Fonger, who was born and raised in Lowell, said growing up, there wasn’t a supportive, inclusive environment for people like him.
“Growing up in a small-town community for an LGBTQ kid is difficult, and it was for me,” said Fonger. “Fearing rejection, fearing bullying.”
Afraid to live authentically, Fonger moved away for 22 years, before coming back last year.
“I went out to San Francisco so I could be gay,” said Fonger.
Ty Sheppard and Peter Schmidt shared similar stories.
“I felt like everyone was constantly judging and looking down at me,” said Shepherd, reflecting back on coming out as gay his sophomore year of high school.
“I was always cautious about how involved of a parent I was in groups because I didn’t want to end up having conversations about relationships with people,” said Schmidt. “It was like a back fear of being known or being seen.”
According to a 2019 report from the Movement Advancement Project, up to 3.8 million members, or five percent, of the LGBTQ+ community live in rural areas, like Lowell.
Researchers found small-town living amplified the impact of acceptance and rejection, explaining differences among one another stand out with fewer people, and geographic isolation can lead to fewer resources. The report added the social and political landscape of the areas make LGBTQ+ people more vulnerable to discrimination, noting a less supportive public opinion and fewer legal and policy protections.
Despite the challenges, Lowell PRIDE says change is happening. They just need a place to show it off.
“You’re not alone; you’re not the only one,” said Lintemuth.
To learn more about Saturday’s event, click here.
For LGBTQ+ people seeking resources locally, Lintemuth recommends Lowell High School’s Gay Straight Alliance club for teenagers or Kent District Library’s Lowell branch.
For organizations in the broader West Michigan area, click here.