PHOTO STORY: Inaugural Pride festival draws hundreds to Niles

Published 5:00 am Sunday, June 18, 2023

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NILES — Hundreds of people of all ages, genders and backgrounds descended on Riverfront Park Saturday to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community at the Niles Pride Committee’s inaugural Pride 2023 festival.

Sponsored by TREEs, OnBase Productions and Naomi Ludman, the family-friendly featured musical performances by WAVE and Merovingian, a one-hour drag show and more. In addition, face painting, chalk art and games were available for children to participate in. Local vendors include TREEs Inc*, Forever Flowering, GlitterCultCo, Goddestry, the Weaver’s Nest, Wicked Pop Candle Co., Tarot by Duke and more. The festival was a success for most participating business as several sold out within the first hour.

Pride Committee members, vendors and guests were impressed with the turnout and feedback from the event.

“I’m shocked, I’m elated, I want to cry,” Colpitts said. “The kids are having a great time. They’re talking, they’re doing water balloons and listening to music. It’s been fun… Everyone seems like they’re having a good time and it feels like we were right. You can be fun and family friendly.”

“We’re really encouraged,” said Gerik Nasstrom, Program Director at Outcenter Southwest Michigan. “This is what we expect when you hear of an event that gets some backlash but overwhelming support. When you show up at the event, it’s just a ton of people here coming to hang out. It’s the same thing we experienced when we started doing Pride Fest in Benton Harbor. When you say ‘hey, we’re gonna hang out and have a good time,’ people show up and it’s really, really encouraging.”

While there were safety concerns leading up to the event, Niles Police Chief Jim Millin said the event took place without issue.

“With any event, safety is certainly a concern,” Millin said. “We want to make sure that participants have a safe event and a good time. Certainly with an event like this, protesting is a consideration for people. We really haven’t seen any of that tonight. We did have a couple people that came up and asked if we were going to allow this to actually happen. (The Pride Committee) applied to the city council for use of the space and the city agreed to that. They can use a space like any event can as long as they follow the laws and that’s what we try to get across to people, you still have to follow the law. 

“So far tonight, we’ve seen that, so there have been no violations that we’ve encountered. No concerns, really; everything is going pretty good.”

For those who attended, the success of Niles Pride 2023 was the start of something special.

“I think it’s not an accident,” Nasstrom said. “I think people just want to hang out. People want to have community and last year there were still a lot of people nervous to get out and get around. I think this year people are like we’re not gonna just go because we want to but also go because we want to make a statement to say we want this. We want to be included in the conversation.”