Northern Wilds Magazine
The Cook County Pride Committee will host a Pride Celebration in Grand Marais on Saturday, June 10. | SUBMITTED
Along the Shore

Cook County Pride: Embracing diversity & celebrating LGBTQ rights

The month of June is often a time to celebrate the arrival of summer activities and community events.

For many worldwide, June is also a time to celebrate the LGBTQ community. While June was formally recognized as Pride Month in 1999 by President Bill Clinton, the history of Pride Month began decades prior.

The catalyst for the LGBTQ rights movement began following the historic Stonewall riots in New York City on June 28, 1969. The Stonewall Inn was a popular gathering place for LGBTQ individuals, but it frequently experienced raids by the police. Finally, in June 1969, the bar patrons decided to fight back against police harassment, leading to several days of rioting and protests. The event spearheaded a generational advocacy and rights movement that spanned the globe.

Since then, June has become synonymous with celebrations of the LGBTQ community, with parades, rallies, and other events. Following the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall events, large cities across the nation, such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, began holding pride marches to commemorate the June event. Throughout the years, more cities and small towns, such as Grand Marais, have joined in the June celebrations.

“As long as I can remember in my adult life, there’s been some kind of something fairly small scale in Grand Marais,” Lenna Stever-Sobanja, a Cook County Pride Committee member, said. However, in the spring of 2021, a small group of individuals decided they wanted to engage the community and plan more formal pride events.

Shortly after, in the fall of 2021, the group of dedicated individuals, who are all volunteers, formed the Cook County Pride Committee. They began holding meetings and brainstorming ideas for how to raise awareness and support for LGBTQ rights. With their eyes set on hosting a large event in Grand Marais, the committee planned celebratory activities in Harbor Park, followed by a parade or march through town on June 4, 2022.

Stever-Sobanja said nearly 400 people attended the June 4 pride event in Harbor Park in Grand Marais. “So that’s by far the largest pride event that’s ever happened in Cook County.”

For many people, June is a time to celebrate the LGBTQ community. | SUBMITTED

“That was really encouraging,” she added. “It made us realize the need to keep going.”

While there has been a wide range of interest from Cook County community members to be involved with the newly formed pride committee, Stever-Sobanja said there is, on average, a core group of about 10 volunteers who have kept the pride committee’s momentum going.

“There’s a core group of us who really dedicate quite a bit of time to achieving whatever tasks are put down,” she said.

One of the most recent tasks was planning and hosting a Drag Queen Story Hour fundraising event on March 4 at the Cook County Community Center’s log cabin. Before the event, the pride committee set a goal of raising $2,200-2,400. Stever-Sobanja said the event was a great success, with over 100 people in attendance. In addition, the committee exceeded its expectations in fundraising efforts. In total, the event generated over $3,000 in donations.

“That was great. But really, the bigger effect was that we were all proud that the event achieved our mission of creating these safe conversations, and making a difference, making an impact for the LGBTQ community here,” Stever-Sobanja said. “I was really struck by how much support there was from our community.”

The funds raised during the March 4 event will predominantly go towards hosting the next pride committee event on Saturday, June 10. The pride committee intends to expand the celebratory activities and events this year. Daytime activities such as arts, crafts, and small presentations will be held at The Hub in downtown Grand Marais from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The main event, including music and a few speakers, will occur in Harbor Park at 5 p.m. Following that, Stever-Sobanja said there will be a march through Grand Marais.

The festive activities continue into the evening hours. More music and dancing will take place in Harbor Park following the march. And those 21 years of age and older can keep the celebrations rolling by attending an after-party at Up Yonder, formerly Harbor Light, for a live DJ and dance party.

Stever-Sobanja said the Cook County Pride Committee is excited about the support they have received in the community and are looking forward to the June celebrations. Following the June 10 event, Stever-Sobanja said the committee will continue working hard to build its presence within the community.

While the awareness and support for LGBTQ rights have made leaps and bounds since 1969, Stever-Sobanja said there is plenty of work yet to do. “I feel like the main thing is like visibility and acknowledgment and celebration of the diversity of our community,” she said. “It’s important for us (pride committee), and for me personally, to be involved in making an impact in my community.”

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