Baseball doesn’t typically come to mind when thinking about LGBTQ spaces. Up North Pride is working against the idea that certain places and events aren’t comfortable to their community, which is why they partnered with the Traverse City Pit Spitters to host the first ever Pit Spitters Pride Night last Thursday.
I was excited to be able to talk to Jonny Cameron, chair and founder of Up North Pride, about the idea of doing a Pride Night at the ballpark. I was also excited to go to my first Pit Spitters game.
Jonny identifies as nonbinary, meaning that they feel like neither a man nor a woman, because of this Jonny prefers to use gender-neutral ‘they’ as opposed to gender specific he or she pronouns.
I met Jonny at the game and started our conversation by asking, “So, you’re like the poster child of the gay community up here, huh?” to which Jonny mischievously laughed and responded, “Well, I am a child.”
I was delighted to find that this was Jonny’s first Pit Spitters game as well. They were inspired to start a years’ worth of activities for Up North Pride that focused on being in places and going to events that aren’t typically spaces where LGBTQ people go, places like baseball games.
“Earlier I walked into the game thinking, ‘wow, this is a traditionally masculine space’ you know?”
This idea for year-round programming started this year, but really began when Up North Pride started hosting more mixers and happy hour events in the fall. Up North Pride wanted to expand to year-round programming to further promote inclusion in public spaces.
“We’re expanding to year-round programming, we’re expanding into programming that gets us outside city limits.”
Getting out of the confines of Traverse City is important for Up North Pride because there are a lot of LGBTQ people living quietly in rural Northern Michigan that can feel alienated from their community, and Up North Pride wants to make sure that people living in these areas feel included in the Northern Michigan queer community.
“We’re not just for Traverse City,” Jonny said. “We’re actually for a lot of our friends and family, people who may be in the closet in the rural areas, in the small communities.”
Jonny has drawn inspiration for new Up North Pride event ideas from cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. A similar advocacy group in Los Angeles hosted a Pride night at a Dodgers game and it was a huge success.
“We’re kind of taking note of what other, larger communities are doing. Pride in the ballpark is not a new thing. L.A. did a Pride night, and it was their biggest night of the year.”
Jonny plans on growing Up North Pride with these events. Up North Pride started as a grassroots project in 2014 with a visibility stroll that 200 people showed up to. This past pride drew quite a few more people.
“6,000 people on the streets of Traverse City in less than 6 years.”
Not everybody who shows up at Pride events is an LGBTQ person, allies are welcome to join too. In fact, Jonny finds that these events will draw people out just because they feel comfortable being somewhere new with others who are experiencing something new, too. I had to smile because that’s exactly how I felt, being a stranger in a new place. I don’t know much about baseball, but I enjoy baseball games, and something about coming to my first game on a Pride night made me feel a bit comforted knowing that there are others strangers in a new place, too.
“Some of the folks who have come here tonight, I don’t know that they watch baseball, maybe they don’t, but tonight’s a night where they know they can come watch baseball and be with their friends and enjoy the sport. Also, for our ally friends, they provide cover to us to come out and to be part of a larger community.”
Plenty of allies were at the Pride night game, wearing rainbow apparel or accessories. There were also super cool Up North Pride Pit Spitter t-shirts that many game attendees bought and wore.
Jonny understands that Pride events aren’t always puppies and rainbows (pun intended), and can be controversial. On a Pit Spitters Facebook post advertising the Pride night at the ballpark, there were several angry react emojis. That doesn’t detract Jonny’s sparkly charisma or bright disposition.
“It’s easy to be angry when you’re separated from your community to be angry about community building.”
There are no angry faces at this Pit Spitters game. I had a delicious $2 hot dog, my seat was comfortable and I got to watch the Pit Spitter mascot Monty dance the Cotton Eyed Joe. I also got to watch a pack of T-Rex race each other, entertainment I never knew I needed. Also, a noteworthy aspect of the ballpark are the bathrooms. For LGBTQ people, bathrooms can be tricky, so Pit Spitters Park having family restrooms is a great comfort and big deal.
Pit Spitters GM Mickey Graham was happy to do the collaboration with Up North Pride. He said that the ballpark is open to everybody, and that everyone should feel welcome and have a good time.
“That’s what we’re about,” Mickey said. “Being a true community asset to Northern Michigan.”
There are a so many reason to go to a Pit Spitters ball game this summer, and I feel so lucky that I got to experience my first game on a night when so many were experiencing their first Pit Spitters game, too.
“Whether you’re coming for Pride, for the cheap beer, for fireworks,” Mickey said. “Whatever gets you down here. It’s for anybody.”