In 1997, Sandy Brown received a letter.

The Sturgeon Bay resident was in her third year as a representative for the local chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) when a young man wrote to the chapter’s P.O. Box, expressing suicidal thoughts and feelings of loneliness. 

“He thought he was alone in the world,” Brown said. 

Meanwhile, celebrity actor Ellen DeGeneres was announcing her sexuality, so Brown arranged an “Ellen Coming Out Party” to introduce this man to the world of support he had. Brown then decided to meet every month as a committee to develop the meetings into a more full-fledged chapter.

Twenty-five years later, as PFLAG Door County reaches a turning point in its history, it is not alone in advocating for Door County’s LGBTQ residents. Two other organizations – Open Door Pride and Northern Door Pride – have developed over the past several years in response to the peninsula’s lack of inclusion for LGBTQ residents.

As PFLAG continues to welcome all visitors to its monthly meetings for information and support about the LGBTQ community, Open Door Pride and Northern Door Pride are growing as well—with initiatives to unify residents and welcome visitors and by establishing educational and philanthropic opportunities for young residents.

A cake celebrating PFLAG Door County’s 25th anniversary is seen at the organization’s annual picnic in Sturgeon Bay’s Sunset Park on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. Photo by Betsy Lecy.

PFLAG celebrates 25 years

In commemoration of the PFLAG chapter’s 25th anniversary, the organization had a picnic at Sturgeon Bay’s Sunset Park on Aug. 27 where members created community mosaics depicting different photographs of the chapter’s history. 

“We hope to continue to educate, advocate, and support people in any way we can in future years,” Brown said. “We have a white-based community that sometimes doesn’t recognize that we have tourists from all over the world that come here, and how they’re treated reflects on our county.”

Brown has been involved with PFLAG since 1995, when she became the regional director of the PFLAG national organization. She was a pioneer for diversity within the Door County community and often had to be wary of the community’s reactions. 

“In PFLAG, we don’t put periods after each initial because we’ve extended the category to all the different letters of the alphabet,” Brown said. “I thought it was the safer thing to do than really labeling yourself, especially since everyone has family and friends of lesbians and gays.”

Brown also is a member of the Coordinating Committee of Response for Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence and Prevent Suicide Door County. She hopes she can educate other organizations about the health risks facing LGBTQ people, who research has shown are at higher risk for suicide.

In the past, the PFLAG chapter has hosted several films and community discussions.

In 2015, it offered two screenings of the documentary “Gen Silent” about the lack of acceptance in nursing and assisted living facilities and aging LGBTQ people who are forced back into the closet when they’re in need of physical care.  These screenings led to PFLAG working with the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) and the Door County Medical Center, Brown said.

“It was interesting because at the time the director of the (ADRC) saw the film and had a training for caregivers to raise awareness,” Brown said.

Their collaboration led to a 2017 screening of the National Geographic documentary “Gender Revolution.” There was a large turnout, and ADRC and Medical Center staff members were able to get continuing education credits.

MacReady Artisan Bread Company flies a Pride flag in 2022. Photo courtesy Steve Makovec.

Open Door Pride could add executive director

In 2014, musician Cathy Grier contacted the PFLAG chapter after moving to Door County from New York. When she found out there was no organization holding a Pride festival in Door County, she founded Open Door Pride. 

The group, made up of all volunteers, now plans to extend old initiatives and introduce new proposals to benefit LGBTQ residents. Open Door Pride also was recently awarded a $6,500 grant from 100+ Women Who Care to pursue its mission.

The organization is looking for help on its board, and potentially an executive director, said Steve Makovec, Open Door Pride’s treasurer.

The organization also hopes to continue its annual Pride Fest – which it has held since 2017 – as well as the Pride Flag Initiative, the Sandy Brown Award and a scholarship for an LGBTQ student.

It plans to collaborate with Destination Door County and Destination Sturgeon Bay to help local businesses with inclusion; to create a resource list to ensure locals and visitors alike feel comfortable in the community; and to set in motion a diversity program for local schools to improve inclusion for young students. 

Pride Fest has continually grown every year and has received a proclamation from the mayor of Sturgeon Bay for the last three years. As of last year, June was proclaimed as Pride Month for the city.

The organization also began the Pride Flag Initiative, offering free Pride flags to local businesses. In 2021, 12 businesses flew the flag; this year, 72 businesses flew the flag. 

“We need volunteers always, especially with our website, and with the Pride Flag Initiative,” Makovec said. 

Open Door Pride also introduced the Sandy Brown Award (named after the first person to receive the award) in 2018, which recognizes an organization or individual for their support to diversity and the LGBTQ community.

“We look at diversity for all, and we give an award every year made by a local artist that donates their time,” Mackovec said. “Write On Door County has received this award, and this year we gave it to the City of Sturgeon Bay for their support.”

Attendees celebrate during Northern Door Pride’s 2021 Pride festival in Sister Bay. Photo courtesy Owen Alabado.

Northern Door Pride hopes to develop scholarship

In 2021, after moving from Los Angeles, Owen Alabado was bewildered when he learned there was no Pride event in northern Door County, so he decided to create one.

“I started putting this together, and with the amount of support and how much it meant to people, I thought this could become a nonprofit to support LGBTQ residents, students and even visitors; then we do spread inclusion and awareness in northern Door County,” Alabado said.

As Northern Door Pride reaches new objectives in its development, it hopes not only to continue the Pride events but to develop a scholarship and mentorship program for LGBTQ students at Gibraltar Area Schools, as well as possibly holding an event to fundraise for an organization that supports women’s rights.

When Alabado lived in Los Angeles, he was highly involved in college with the Gay Student Alliance, so he was passionate to create an entity in Door County. Alabado was aware of Open Door Pride’s presence and its representation of the whole county, but he thinks the two organizations represent different places. 

“It’s hard for us to be part of Sturgeon Bay,” Alabado said. “Sturgeon Bay is 45 minutes away. Plus, we’re all in the tourist industry, so we can’t go to Saturday events. I didn’t want to step on their toes or be a similar organization, so I try to make our vibe different. That way we can be two organizations that work together, but two separate entities at the same time.”

Until recently, Northern Door Pride wasn’t recognized as tax-exempt. Therefore, it was limited to holding events and the cash donations it gained from these events. With a 501(c)(3) designation, it is able to apply for grants to create more opportunities and pursue its mission.

“Our mission statement is to become the best version of yourself, whether you’re an ally, whether you’re bisexual, whatever the case,” Alabado said. “Be a good person at the end of the day; treat people with respect, acceptance, and love.”