Becoming a drag queen performer saved Tyler Cooper’s life.
About 20 years ago, he was deeply depressed after a knee injury dashed his dreams of becoming a professional dancer. But a trip to Florida with his aunt helped lift his spirits, and soon after returning to Michigan, he packed up his belongings and moved to the Sunshine State. There, as a young gay man, Cooper was able to connect with other queer people and was introduced to drag shows.
He eventually entered a drag talent show, and won first place.
“Three weeks later, I was on stage in platform heels and a red and black costume performing Bon Jovi, and here we are 20 years later,” he said. “It came from a suicide attempt and an escape to Florida to try and save my life and my greatest masterpiece was born.”
Cooper, 40, is best known by his stage name, Sabin, and he has become one of the most recognized drag queens in Michigan.
One of his popular gigs is hosting Motor City Pride, where he will return this weekend for his 14th year.
The annual festival takes place Saturday and Sunday at Hart Plaza with a lineup of more than 200 local and national performers. Along with being a place to have fun, Pride is also a way to connect, celebrate and advocate for continued protections for the LGBTQ community, said Motor City Pride chairman Dave Wait.
“I’m looking forward to seeing everyone come out,” he said. “There’s still so many people in the community who aren’t out in their everyday lives, so this gives them an opportunity to come out and be their authentic selves in a safe, welcoming space.”
Up and coming LGBTQ musician JORDY is this year’s headliner, and he’ll perform Sunday at 5:30 p.m. The pop singer-songwriter made his debut in 2018 with the single, “Just Friends” and released his latest album, “Boy” in April. JORDY was also nominated for Outstanding Breakthrough Music Artist at the 2023 GLAAD Media Awards.
Sabin will host a drag revue Saturday and on Sunday, he will be joined by Jasmine Kennedie and Robin Fierce, who both competed on seasons 14 and 15 of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
The pride parade takes place at noon Sunday on Griswold and Fort Street. The route goes down Griswold, and ends at Hart Plaza. Festivities will continue until the event ends at 7 p.m.
Admission for the festival is $5 and there is free viewing along the parade route. Kids 12 and younger can enter the event for free. In an effort to speed up lines, attendees will have the ability to purchase tickets in advance on the Motor City Pride website, Wait said. There will be a new entrance this year off Jefferson Avenue at the UAW-Ford building on the west side of Hart Plaza.
And as pride and drag events across the country continue to face protests and threats, security is one the festival’s biggest priorities, Wait said. There will be about 50 private security officers stationed at Hart Plaza monitoring the event.
Cooper said one of the ways Motor City Pride is unique to other pride events in metro Detroit is that it brings together a number of LGBTQ people from across the city.
“Whether you’re part of the ‘rainbow mafia’ as they call it, or whether you’re an ally, it brings so many people together from so many different walks of life,” he said. “It’s always my favorite time of the year.”
Entertainment and food galore
For its entertainment lineup, Motor City Pride will feature four stages: Pride, Pyramid, Festival and Riverfront Dance. Saginaw native and former student of the now-closed Detroit Institute of Music Education Siena Liggins will perform Saturday, while Detroit techno legends Stacey “Hotwaxx” Hale and John “Jammin’” Collins will take the stage Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
If you’re in the mood for indie punk and pop music, Hayley and the Crushers will perform Saturday, as well as East Coast band Breakfast For Dinner. There will even be a tribute to Swedish pop star Robyn during The Robyn Party Saturday night.
And for Sabin’s drag revues, fans can expect to see “everything and all of it,” Cooper said. This year’s cast is his most diverse yet, he said, as he has Black, Latinx and transgender performers in the show.
“It truly looks like what our community looks like,” Cooper said. “Our community is such a beautiful coloring book and I love that we’re able to represent that within the art and the show that we’ve put together.”
There will also be plenty of food vendors, Wait said. Fork in Nigeria, Island Noodles and Bearclaw Coffee Co. will be among the food truck offerings.
For Wait, Motor City Pride is a way to celebrate the progress Michigan has made in protecting the LGBTQ community. In March, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill into law that expanded the state’s civil rights law to include a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
“We’re also there to advocate, to have more protections for individuals, to be able to expand the hearts and minds of individuals who may not realize that their neighbors are LGBTQ,” Wait said.
For Cooper, Motor City Pride is a safe place to celebrate who he’s always been.
“To be able to stand there authentically as a gay man and as a performer and celebrate the art that I’ve chosen, it’s truly what makes me proudest,” he said. “I’m able to stand there and give somebody a safe space.”