Proclamations work to support and include the LGBTQIA+ community
Pride gets a bad rap by making the list of deadly sins, but it’s the opposite of a negative force in human existence when it comes to LGBTQIA+ Pride. That sort of pride helps lift the veil of shame and social stigma by promoting self-affirmation, dignity, inclusion, equality and increased visibility.
June is the month when support for the LGBTQIA+ community is most visible through Pride parades, picnics, concerts and gatherings. The City of Sturgeon Bay has joined in by proclaiming June Open Door Pride Month. There are many good words in the proclamation document about creating a welcoming place for all that’s free from discrimination. But when it comes to social injustice and exclusion that run deep below the surface of civil society, does this language of support, these words on paper, amount to anything meaningful?
A resounding “yes” came from a group of Open Door Pride volunteers, allies and board members who gathered with the Peninsula Pulse at Martin Park in Sturgeon Bay to talk about what it meant to hear that “their city stands beside them and embraces this opportunity to take action and engage in dialogue to strengthen alliances, build acceptance and advance equal rights,” according to the proclamation.
Not only does it send a message to all residents and visitors, but it reaches would-be residents, too, such as Jerod Santek. He arrived to accept the artistic director position at Write On, Door County in 2013 – well before anything like a proclamation of support had been issued. He and his partner of 29 years had lived in large cities and didn’t know what to expect from the small, Midwestern county.
“We had heard it was a safe community, but not an open community,” he said. “It was like, ‘Oh, yes, we’re leading our quiet gay lives in little pockets of the county.’”
The proclamation, had it been issued back then, would have given Santek more of an idea about the community he was joining. Also important is the message it sends to young people. He left his hometown in a large Pittsburgh suburb because he didn’t feel safe to be himself while living there. Public community support gives young people options other than flight from their hometowns.
“If we can have this proclamation from officials, it makes a young person feel like, ‘I don’t have to leave home. I can stay here and be who I am,’” Santek said. “That’s a really powerful message to send.”
The city’s official proclamation honors Open Door Pride, a nonprofit organization that incorporated five years ago to “affirm diversity in Door County through inclusion for all.” Cathy Grier founded the organization and is president of its board. She’s a musician who came to Sturgeon Bay from New York City in 2016 for the Steel Bridge Songfest and decided to stay. By 2017, she had turned her questioning about the absence of a Pride organization into the formation of one.
“What we needed to do by forming a Pride organization was just to show we’re ordinary citizens,” she said.
From the organization’s inception, Grier has sought support from city officials.
“People have been discriminated against,” Grier said. “If you can allow your elected officials to put in words that they support you? That’s a step forward.”
Kelly Catarozoli, an Open Door Pride ally and owner of The Foxglove Inn in Sturgeon Bay, advanced the proclamation five years ago when she was a member of the city’s Common Council. It wasn’t easy, she said, but the council came through.
“A proclamation can’t change someone’s heart, that’s for sure,” Catarozoli said. “But it sure makes a statement about progress. The good part is that progress has come so far that even people who may be uncomfortable are more uncomfortable to deny things like this. And that’s progress.”
At first, the proclamation was for only one day, and it was done quietly, without a reading in council chambers. In year three, the proclamation was extended to a week, and that week became a month in year four. During this time, the city also granted permission for Open Door Pride to fly the rainbow-colored Pride flag in Martin Park. Five years later, Mayor David Ward read the whole proclamation during the Common Council’s June 1 meeting, with Grier and others in attendance.
No other Door County community has issued such a proclamation – at least not yet. But every year, Open Door Pride sends a letter to all the municipalities asking them to fly the Pride flag. This year was the first time they got a couple of takers: the Villages of Egg Harbor and Sister Bay.
Extending those symbols of acceptance and language of inclusion is important to Darrick DeMeuse of Sevastopol, who works in retail management. He said he wished other municipalities would follow Sturgeon Bay’s lead with proclamations. Like Santek, DeMeuse left his hometown, but his was Sevastopol in Door County.
“When I was younger, it felt like it wouldn’t be totally safe to be who I was,” he said.
DeMeuse moved away for college and didn’t return, finding it easier to fit in with the larger populations of Green Bay and Madison. But they still weren’t home, and for him, “there’s nothing like Door County.” DeMeuse mustered his courage to return and noticed some things had changed.
“It feels nice to be back in the area and not to be the scared little kid that I was,” he said. “The fact that on June 1, the [Maritime Museum] lighthouse was lit up [in Pride colors], that was cool. I had to take a picture of it.”
James Champion, a Sturgeon Bay resident who works as a caregiver and sales associate at Door County Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, said the city’s proclamation is important because it recognizes the LGBTQIA+ community in an official capacity.
“Not that it legitimizes us because we’ve already been legitimate,” Champion said. “We’ve been here and living our lives among people. It’s part of that visibility aspect.”
Visibility is important because without it, people live in fear. Champion was one of those people. It took years for Champion to come out as gay, and years after that to come out as nonbinary. (Nonbinary is a gender identity that cannot be categorized as exclusively male or female.) Champion believes the day will come when people recognize “there’s no such thing as ‘us’ and ‘them’; it’s just ‘us.’ Once people start to understand, they’ll stop fearing and stop hating.”
Sandy Brown has been working for decades to stop fear and the hatred it spawns. She described the city’s proclamation as “thrilling and so supportive” because she knows what it’s like to go it alone. The Sturgeon Bay resident, now retired, started the local PFLAG chapter (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in 1995, and she still keeps it alive today with some 200 members on the mailing list. The PFLAG national organization, founded in 1973, was the first and largest of its kind to organize for a world where “diversity is celebrated and all people are respected, valued and affirmed, inclusive of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.”
That’s what Brown wanted in Sturgeon Bay. She’d post notices at the library for local PFLAG meetings, and maybe one person a month would come forward to ask her for information. That was enough for her to keep it going, though, and many years later, a young man told her he had seen one of those notices posted at the library when he was a high school student.
“He saw that on the bulletin board, and that gave him hope that there were other people like him,” she said. “So wow: Words really matter.”
Brown said it wasn’t until Grier formed Open Door Pride that she witnessed the community finally coming together.
“I was delighted she [Grier] gave us that impetus,” Brown said.
That’s ultimately Grier’s objective: to bring people together by winning the hearts and minds of all. Slow and steady win that race, and five years in, Grier said she believes Open Door Pride has gained a firm footing in Sturgeon Bay and is drawing more and more allies.
Jodi Milske is among them. The Sturgeon Bay resident who works at Healthy Way Market became an ally of Open Door Pride because inclusion isn’t a one-way street.
“To have inclusiveness, you have to have the people who want to be included and the people who are the includers,” she said. “You need a community that wants to include.”
What LGBTQIA+ Stands For
This acronym, which is constantly being updated, refers to all of the identities commonly associated with gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation that are outside of the heterosexual, cisgender norm. (Cisgender refers to people whose current gender identity corresponds with the sex they had, or were identified as having, at birth.) This iteration stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and more.
Why Is June Pride Month?
LGBTQIA+ Pride reaches back to the 1969 Stonewall uprising in Manhattan. On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, the most popular gay bar in New York City at a time when homosexuality was still a criminal offense. The raid incited thousands of protesters to gather at the inn over the course of a week to demonstrate against decades of abuse, fundamentally changing LGBTQIA+ activism in the United States. The first Gay Pride Parade was held the following year on the anniversary of the uprising. Source: Library of Congress
Write On, Door County Selected for Sandy Brown Award
Open Door Pride has selected Write On, Door County as the 2021 recipient of the Sandy Brown Award. The honor is given annually to a person or organization that exemplifies the mission of Open Door Pride: To affirm diversity in Door County through inclusion for all.
A different local artist designs the award each year – Stephanie Trenchard will design this year’s – and it’s named after Sandy Brown, who began the first PFLAG chapter in Sturgeon Bay in 1995.
“As the Open Door Pride team discussed nominees for our annual Sandy Brown Award, Write On, Door County kept coming up,” Grier said. “In recent times, a common conversation and theme has been, words do matter. Write On has brought to Door County writers who represent a wonderful mix of diversity – writers who exemplify Write On, Door County’s promise to uphold and nurture an inclusive, supportive and welcoming environment. With every poem, prose, spoken word that has been shared and created during a writer’s residency or workshop, the community learns.
“Their mission is to inspire people. Open Door Pride’s mission is to celebrate our diversity with inclusion for all. As they say, ‘Everyone has a story to tell.’ How inspiring.
“We are thrilled to award Write On, Door County with Open Door Pride’s 2021 Sandy Brown Award.”
Open Door Pride Festival
The fifth annual Open Door Pride (ODP) Festival will take place Saturday, June 26, both virtually and with a live celebration in Martin Park, 207 S. 3rd Ave. in Sturgeon Bay.
Starting at 11 am, the live celebrations will include installations of the Ribbon Project and the What’s My Pride? Project, with ODP merchandise available in the Open Door Pride tent.
At noon, Sturgeon Bay Alder Spencer Gustafson and other elected officials will read the City of Sturgeon Bay’s Proclamation to Open Door Pride, and the presentation of the annual Sandy Brown Award will follow. Also expected is an official presentation of a citation from the Wisconsin Assembly commending Open Door Pride.
There will be no live entertainment or vendors in the park for this year’s festival. Instead, all musical performances and guest artists will be virtual, and the entire festival will be available on the ODP YouTube channel after the event. There will also be a live feed of Martin Park, 11 am – 1 pm, which ODP will air live at times during the virtual show.
Find out more at opendoorpride.org.
Northern Door Pride Event
A free-admission Northern Door Pride event will be held at the Sister Bay Town Hall on Tuesday, June 22, 6-10 pm. The event will feature live performances, a DJ and dancing, and raffles in collaboration with Door County businesses. Wine and beer will be served. All proceeds will go to Open Door Pride.
Wisconsin Assembly Issues Citation for Open Door Pride
Open Door Pride received a citation from the Wisconsin Assembly commending the organization for its “outstanding service and the lasting impact it has made in Door County for LGBTQIA+ activism and community support.” The citation was signed by Gov. Tony Evers, Rep. Joel Kitchens, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August. An official presentation is expected to be made during the Open Door Pride festival on June 26 in Sturgeon Bay’s Martin Park.