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Muskegon's first Pride Festival sparks 'hope,' organizer says

Hundreds filled the streets of downtown Muskegon, celebrating the lakeshore's LGBTQ+ community.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — As hundreds gathered at Muskegon's first Pride Festival, those in the LGBTQ+ community finally feel an outpouring of love from their community something many believe has been a long time coming. 

"I sat and cried in my car for a good half an hour before walking up here," said Robin Werner. "It's extremely momentous." 

Werner is not from the lakeshore she traveled in from Wisconsin to be part of the lakeshore city's milestone. She described herself as an 'elder in the gay community,' having attended pride festivals and parades as far back as 1973 in San Francisco.

"Just memories of being a 15-year-old at my first Pride and all the things I’ve done in my lifetime for my gay family, and that they’ve done for me," she said. Saturday is the first time in 49 years she's attended a city's first-ever Pride Festival.

"We just needed a little bit of fairy magic to make it happen," said Jeffery Pienela, president of Muskegon Pride. "Now it’s all just fun and excitement."

Pienela says the city has been waiting for this moment. Between hugs and love-filled hellos, Pienela and his fellow organizers are taking in years-worth of work in a matter of hours. 

"It means that there’s hope for them to feel comfortable to come out and step out of their shell and be embraced for who and what they are," he said. 

Pienela hopes the festival will be an outlet for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community to gain confidence and to feel loved by everyone around them. 

Muskegon mayor Ken Johnson agrees the city was ready for this event, and says he's looking forward to more events in the future. 

Johnson hopes other cities that want to host their first Pride Festival can look to Muskegon as a compass point. 

Pienela and Werner agree the turnout, as well as the welcoming environment, are great signs of Muskegon's future as a city that embraces and celebrates pride.

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