Pride events hot topic at Berrien County Commissioners meeting

Published 5:00 pm Thursday, June 15, 2023

ST. JOSEPH — Comments opposing south county “gay pride” events were made by three area residents at Thursday’s Berrien County Board of Commissioners meeting. 

The inaugural Niles Pride 2023 event is set for this Saturday at the Riverfront Amphitheater, while the first annual Buchanan Pride event is set for Sunday, June 25. 

Buchanan resident Carla Johnson questioned the Buchanan event which is being produced by the Buchanan Area Senior Center with donations from several local businesses. Buchanan Pride is scheduled for 5-10 p.m. June 25 at the Buchanan Common. 

“The center says it’s paying for the event with donations but they’re still using the center’s name, materials, staff and assets,” she told commissioners. “Why would the senior center use its resources to produce this event when seniors comprise less than one percent of Americans who identify as LGBTQ?” 

“This is not about hatred, it’s about knowing who you represent,” she added. “Shouldn’t the senior center equally represent all seniors and address everyone’s needs and prejudices. This is so obvious, I can’t believe I’m saying it.” 

Johnson said she’s hearing from senior citizens who no longer feel comfortable going to the Buchanan senior center. “I’m hearing from seniors who used to enjoy the center but no longer support it because of the push to elevate the gay pride movement,” she said. 

“They are not members of a hate group, they are tired of the in your face gay agenda,” she added. “Senior centers should not push any political agenda or sexual orientation. One couple complained to the Area Agency on Aging but were told they will not get involved in what centers can anc can’t do.” 

“I’m a senior citizen yet a member of the center’s pride committee referenced me in a public Facebook post as an ignorant reckless right winger,” she said. “LGBTQ people must be protected but so must all seniors. A member of the board of directors chased me down the street swearing and calling me names.” 

Krystal McCully of Niles said she and others spoke earlier this week at the Niles City Council meeting where members approved the Niles Pride event. 

“This is not a hatred issue, I have no issue with them having pride events,” she said. “The issue is the location and the fact that public money is being used.” 

She said the Niles Pride organizers were given a “blanket yes” by the council with no questions asked about the specifics of the event. She particularly took issue with the fact that the event will have a drag show in an area that directly faces a playground. “This is an affront to children, this is a busy part where families go with small children,” she said. 

“They are giving free admission to children age five and younger which is a concern to me,” she added. “Why is the city promoting having a drag show in front of five year olds or babies for that matter? I want to make the county board aware that this is happening.” 

 McCully said her opposition to the event was not because of any hatred issue but the use of public funding and the location being where children will be present. 

“It’s not a hatred issue, just don’t have it in a public space and that there’s public funding,” she said. “They’re not being charged anything, I don’t think my taxes should be used to fund that.” 

Niles resident Michelle Funkhouser spoke about both events. She said her issue with the Niles event is that “the event was not self-funded and our tax dollars are being used for something the majority of us did not support in a public place.” 

“Numerous people spoke and it wasn’t about a different belief system, it was about how money was being spent,” she said. “It was a unanimous vote to support it and it was a disappointment to quite a few people.” 

She also said she was in Buchanan with Johnson when the two were “bullied” by a pride committee member and that they filed a police report. “When we have differences of opinion, that’s part of nature,” she said. “But when you have to be worried and afraid and people come to your house, that’s unacceptable.” 

She asked the county board to consider what is allowed to be done in a public place and in front of children. She asked that local and county officials start thinking about such events ahead of time and not just when a proposal is presented.