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Network Neighborhood Bash celebrates LGBT community

[VIDEO] Local gay community of Grand Rapids rallies for support and celebration while promoting equality.

The Rapidian tabled at the bash and asked passersby to answer one of two questions for a video that Rapidian intern Tom Gunnels compiled: 

  1. What is an LGBTQ resource in GR that you're glad about?
  2. What is an occurence in recent history that indicates whether GR is becoming a better environment for the LGBTQ community?
Underwriting support from:

Resources and Information:

The LGBT Network of Western Michign

Phone: (616) 458-3511

345 Atlas Avenue

Grand Rapids, MI 49506


Until Love Is Equal Campaign

The campaign, a main focal point of many LGBT events in West Michigan, was formed in response to the recent City Commission of Holland, MI excluding sexual orientation from an anti-discrimination ordinance. 

The Network booth, along with many other vendors, on site for donations and support for the LGBT community

The Network booth, along with many other vendors, on site for donations and support for the LGBT community /Chelsea LaForge

Kylee Starr prepares for her Drag Show performance

Kylee Starr prepares for her Drag Show performance /Chelsea LaForge

A drag queen struts her stuff on stage at the 2nd Annual Bash

A drag queen struts her stuff on stage at the 2nd Annual Bash /Chelsea LaForge


After almost eight months of planning and organizing, the 2nd Annual Network Neighborhood Bash in Eastown came out in full swing. The Network, a local group offering resources to West Michigan's gay and gay-friendly community, hosted the 2nd Annual Bash to celebrate the LGBT community. The event took over Atlas Avenue in Eastown from 2-9:30 p.m. With live entertainment and vendors, both vendors and organizers alike spoke about the progress, or lack thereof, in acceptance of the LGBT community in West Michigan. 

Drew Stoppels, who created and ran the event last year, said that many factors lead The Network to believe that this year’s Bash would be an even bigger success. “We ran the event later this year [and] we’d like to have at least 1,500 attendees this year,” said Stoppels, prior to this year's event. Unfortunately, the weather took its toll on the turnout. Stoppels estimates almost 500 attendees and entertainers were at the Bash and that the event made over $1,500. "Sadly the weather definitely made us take the hit."

Pat Ward, the office manager and only paid employee of The Network, states that another huge factor in this year’s Bash was that “we’ve finally been able to have a core of volunteers.” Ward is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the center, taking care of volunteers, members, and the finances. The rest of the operation hinges on volunteers. Ward says The Network is “striving for more community involvement.” The number one priority of the organization is to “reach out to other gay and gay friendly organizations and make alliances to create a stronger community.” The Network offers resources for the gay community including computers for use, a space available to work and a lending library with over 2,500 books, CDs, and DVDs. Their website offers resources for finding doctors, therapists and other businesses that are gay-friendly in West Michigan. "Anything that's happening in the gay community we can put out there," said Ward. She added that more and more people are realizing, "this is us, this is our community." 

One vendor at the Bash, Tone Vanlent, donated over $300 worth of his Colorful Tone tie dye clothing to the silent auction taking place during the event. Vanlent, in addition to donating pieces for the auction, came out to show support for the cause for personal reasons. “I’m a strong supporter of equal rights. The more cultures and art around me the better. What comes first is respect.” Vanlent came from a family of 12 kids, stating his parents “knew I was different from the other eleven kids.” Moving to Grand Rapids 25 years ago, Vanlent said the last five to ten years have shown more progress. “I see progress; slow, but any progress is better than none.”

Another vendor and supporter was The Grand Rapids Region Writers' Group, which helps local writers get published, with a number of new writers whose topics are not universally accepted by larger publishers because of the inclusion of LGBT characters, settings and themes. Mary Matthews, who moved to Grand Rapids 12 years ago from Southern California, worked the booth at the Bash. When moving here, Matthews felt as though she was “back to the 70’s." She feels that “West Michigan is a problem if you’re LGBT or friendly.” Participating in the event was an opportunity for Matthews to speak out about discrimination im West Michigan. “[It is] my turn to stand up and show my support and help get the word out.”

Getting the word out is the exact intention of events such as the Network Neighborhood Bash. “West Michigan can be a very difficult area to live in and it’s our time to be out and proud. We’re asking to be treated equally,” said Stoppels, who hopes the Bash will extend to Wealthy Street in years to come. "Atlas is the core of the organization [but] I'd love to be on Wealthy. The Eastown Business Association is supportive."

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great job on the article... BEAUTIFUL VIDEO....nice to see so much positive energy in this town... we made the right choice moving here, and are reminded of it everyday with all of the cultural and political progressives we encounter.