Niles residents weigh in on upcoming Pride festival

Published 2:58 pm Tuesday, June 13, 2023

NILES — Community members were given the opportunity to hash out their opinions Monday evening regarding the upcoming Niles Pride Festival.

More than a dozen community members spoke during public comment both for and against the upcoming festival, which takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. 

During Monday’s meeting, 19 public comments were taken, with opinions on the matter roughly split down the middle.

Some speakers argued that the Pride festival would show that Niles is a welcoming community for its LGBTQ+ residents.

“We have so many events that we support because we want to have a community that supports everyone in it,” said Jessica Nelson. “I have no hate in my heart, I have love. I know every single one of you wants what’s best for our children, our families and our community and what’s best for our community is diversity… I see all the promise here in Niles and I want to be part of it and I don’t want to be embarrassed for my city to say that I’m not welcome, that people like me are not welcome here to raise my family.”

“It’s about creating the spaces, it’s about creating that culture of acceptance and about making sure that Niles gets to continue to grow and be flourishing with everything going on,” said Gerik Nasstrom, Program Director at Outcenter Southwest Michigan.

Other speakers were against the festival, believing an event featuring a drag show can not be considered family friendly and safe for children.

“I believe that this event with a drag queen show should not be held in a public park,” said Marla Shortman of Niles. “This park is a location where families with young children could be walking around. This event will not be family-friendly; a drag show should be in the privacy of one’s home, who allows such perversion, and not in a public facility. It is not normal for men to wear women’s dresses, wigs and makeup. I just want to be clear with everyone, that is not normal. It is a way for adult men to get close to children… You must protect the innocent children who are so confused in this society.”

“It takes about two minutes of Google searching to find dozens of videos of Pride and drag queen events that were billed as family-friendly that are anything but,” said Niles resident Keith Stelter. “This is a public area. When people say don’t come to it, that’s not necessarily a choice because it is an area where things are going to be seen and heard and things like that… using the term family friendly and allowing them to say that and go in the public and do this is like allowing a coyote to say it’s chicken-friendly and let it in the chicken coop.”

Niles resident Steve Gargis said his son is looking forward to the Pride Festival.

“He’s excited to go to Pride Fest to support members of his community in love and friendship. We moved to this town for love and friendship. I grew up here and I want to see it be a place of acceptance and for everyone. I don’t care about your race, creed, gender or your sexuality, it doesn’t matter. This should be a safe place for everyone.”

Some speakers against the festival said they oppose it due to their religious beliefs while others for the festival argued that religion should not be a factor in deciding whether an event can take place.

“I want to read you something from the word of god because of every word spoken in this room, the one that we really have to go by is God’s word,” said Suzette Kennedy, who went on to read aloud a Bible verse. “It’s all true, all loving, and all merciful. We do need to hear his word because without his word, we’re gonna fall, we’re gonna fall as a city. We’re gonna fall as a county and we’re gonna fall as a nation. We need God’s word.”

“I know that a lot of people have religious beliefs and that they live their lives adherent to that but we should take the time to remember that politics and religion are two separate things,” said Samantha Vandenberg. “I don’t feel like we should take our religious beliefs and use them as a reason to approve or not approve things because there are many different religions and there are people who don’t believe… I feel like we need something in this community where people can show support and come together. My daughter is part of the LGBTQ community and we are really excited about this event. I am an ally and I would like to be able to go down there and support people.”

After roughly an hour of public comments, Niles Mayor Nick Shelton commended those in attendance for the civil discourse displayed during the forum. 

“I want to thank everybody for speaking tonight, for sticking around and being cordial. That’s what this community is about,” said Mayor Nick Shelton. “I’m very thankful for all of you for being here, expressing the voices and knowing that you are heard by this council.”