On a June summer day in downtown Detroit, rainbow confetti and glitter fluttered through the air.
Smiling people walked the streets adorned with colorful attire as nearly 40,000 celebrated love, unity and equality at the annual Motor City Pride parade.
Detroit Pistons employees were there to show support. Along with dancers, team mascot Hooper, the Extreme Team and the Drumline, the Pistons contingent embraced the event, dancing to hits like Dua Lipa’s hit single Don’t Start Now as Pistons-themed merchandise was tossed into the crowd. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, the first openly gay woman elected to statewide office in Michigan history, celebrated with the Pistons.
Pistons Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Stefen Welch said before the event the franchise’s involvement is very important in supporting the LGBTQ community.
“We’re big believers in wanting people to know that that they're a part of our community and we are a part of theirs,” Welch said. “We always want to support them the way they support us.”
“The No. 1 thing is to celebrate people, celebrate the community, and celebrate our team members in a way that's authentic to us. We have to show them that we see you and you are a part of us, and we are a part of you.”
Motor City Pride was the first in a series of events where the Pistons demonstrated allyship with the LGBTQ community over the summer. For similar efforts over the years and the integration of LGBT-owned businesses in marketing, the Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce honored the Pistons as the Corporation of the Year at its annual COLOURS Pride Awards Gala in June, which is recognized as LGBT Pride Month.
“We've been partnering with the Pistons for over seven years, and I think the most important thing about this relationship with them is that it's always been intentional,” Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce founder Kevin Heard told Pistons.com. “They've always looked at ways to include the LGBT community throughout the year and not just during Pride month.”
‘We want to be there for them’
In early August, Pistons employees gathered in a room overlooking the practice court at the Henry Ford-Pistons Performance Center. They were invited to the meeting during work hours to share personal coming out stories or those of loved ones.
Nikki Wald, who helped to lead the conversation, felt comfortable telling her story.
“A coming out story is not just once but never ending with everyone you meet,” Wald told fellow employees.
During the discussion, employees talked about the importance of being themselves inside the workplace. There was universal agreement that individuals can be “unapologetically themselves” at work, but there is always room for improvement. A brainstorming session produced the idea of adding preferred pronouns to the email signatures and mental health resources for employees.
“I think that as an organization there is always something that we can do to provide opportunities to learn for those who are willing to learn, grow in their experiences and of course, showing support to those of the LGBTQ+ community,” Wald said.
Earlier this summer, the organization hung a Pride banner outside the Pistons Performance Center. The Pistons also introduced a Pride-themed clothing collection where a portion of proceeds were donated to the Ruth Ellis Center, a LGBTQ+ youth center in Detroit. Pistons employees also partnered with Free Mom Hugs, an educational and LGBTQIA+ center, to host its youth prom night.
The Pistons team also sent a contingent of employees across the Canadian border to the Windsor-Essex Pride Parade on Aug. 7.
“I was overwhelmed with the amount of positive emotions all throughout the parade,” said Wald, who attended the Canadian event. “It was amazing to walk the streets with people who are there supporting the same cause you are.”
People cheered from windows and curbs as the crew walked down the streets of Windsor.
“We're going to continue to support as many folks as we can, no matter what community they are in or from but, when we talk about the LGBTQ+ community, which has historic space within our own community, within the city of Detroit, we want to be there for them,” Welch said.