Elected officials and community activists rallied at West Hartford Town Hall Saturday morning preceding the West Hartford Pride celebration of diversity and inclusiveness.
By Ronni Newton
State Sen. Derek Slap remarked Saturday morning that without rain, you can’t have a rainbow.
The multi-faceted meaning of his statement referenced the weather – which featured heavy rain until just before Saturday morning’s Pride rally was set to begin on the steps of West Hartford Town Hall – and it also applied not only to holding the rally prior to the rest of the day’s festivities, but also the need for continued advocacy and legislation.
“So bring it on,” Slap said. “It’s beautiful, wonderful to see all of you, and all of us celebrating Pride, and then noting yet the work that we have left to do.”
Mayor Shari Cantor, who read a proclamation for Pride Month to kick off the rally, said she is “so happy to be the mayor of a community that is welcoming, is warm, and we are celebrating all people, everybody, and I just want to thank you for being loving, for being kind, and for being generous with your heart, and being here to support our LGBTQI community.”
Town Council members Tiffani McGinnis, Deb Polun, Ben Wenograd, and Carol Anderson Blanks also addressed the crowd.
“This year’s Pride is not a celebration in Nashville, it’s an act of defiance,” said McGinnis, who is originally from Tennessee. She urged the crowd to think about states where families might not safely be able to attend an event like Saturday’s rally.
Polun said she’s proud to live in West Hartford, where the community is so welcoming to people who come from different backgrounds and who have different lifestyles. “But here is the charge for today and moving forward – it is to not become complacent. It’s to continue to be proud of who you are and to make sure there is a seat at every table for you … and we will work with you, we will pledge to continue to make this community welcoming for all people,” she said.
“I love Pride!” exclaimed Wenograd. Adding that he loved that the weather wasn’t perfect Saturday.
“I want to get rained on, because Pride isn’t just a party. Pride is a protest. And when we protest sometimes it’s uncomfortable. And that’s what’s great about our Pride – is that as we party, as we eat, as we visit the vendors, as we dance, we are also protesting the hatred, the bigotry, the intolerance that exists … a little bit, even right here in West Hartford.” Everyone is here to say “no” to the bigots and the intolerance, he said.
Blanks said she’s humbled and honored to be on the West Hartford Town Council, to represent a welcoming community. Noting the “No Hate” message on her t-shirt, Blanks said, “We have to eradicate hate in all of the communities. We have to welcome peace and welcome love, and we have to be diligent about it. We have to bring it in all of the spaces that we participate in.”
She urged the crowd to be the change-makers, to say hate is not okay. “We have to hold ourselves accountable, and each other accountable, to make sure that our future is a bright future and a safe future for everyone who participates in that space.”
West Hartford Pride Co-Chair Johanna Schubert served as emcee of the rally, and addressed the crowd, as did Co-Chair Barry Walters, who asked the crowd for a moment of silence.
The LGBTQ+ movement has come a long way, Walters said, and there is much to be thankful for in Connecticut, “but it’s still not perfect.” The community still suffers at the hands of bullies, he said noting that the ADL reports a 265% increase in hate crimes in Connecticut in the last four years. Transgender individuals are still questioned by healthcare professionals and others, he said.
“Yes, we have come a long way but we still have much to do,” Walters said. “How do we get there as a community, as a state, as a nation … we fight like hell.” He called for the support of LGBTQ+ candidates at all levels of government.
“Understand that we are not going back into the closet. We will not just lie down and we will not give in. We will fight back,” Walters said, to ensure opportunity exists for all.
West Hartford state Reps. Kate Farrar and Jillian Gilchrest spoke to the crowd, as did state Rep. Jeff Currey (D-East Hartford), a member of the general assembly’s four-person LGBTQ caucus.
“Showing these words today is powerful,” Farrar said, noting the many messages on posters such as “Disarm Hate,” “Love Rules,” and “Born this Way,” but while the words are powerful, “those words and Pride are more than just words. Pride is an action that we can take every day to stand up for the rights and policies that build a more inclusive town, a more inclusive state, and a more inclusive world.”
“Do not sleep on the successes we have had in the state of Connecticut,” Currey urged. He said the calls of hate are coming from everywhere. “Being an ally is really great … but we need accomplices.”
Gilchrest noted that the legislature expanded protection for gender-affirming care during the past session, but she also noted that this is the anniversary of the Dobbs decision. “We do need to push harder in the state of Connecticut,” she said, to expand protection so that everyone has access to fertility care.
“A year ago when Dobbs happened we made it clear that abortion was first but next they were coming for the LGBTQ community, for birth control, and other things. But what we also saw this year in the legislature was an attack on trans youth that we have never seen before. The vitriol, the hateful words, turned my stomach,” she said, urging people to stand up to protect all in the LGBTQ community, especially trans youth.
Cheers and applause broke out when Slap noted that West Hartford Pride has received state funding in the budget for the next two years, one of, if not the only, Pride nonprofit to have state support.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz also joined Saturday’s rally. She said in 2019 she asked if the Pride flag could be raised over the State Capitol.
There was a pause on the other end of the phone, Bysiewicz said. “We we only raise country flags,” was the answer. “Well I’m pretty sure that there are LGBTQ+ people in every country across the globe,” she responded, and the answer was then, “Yes, you can.” This year, the transgender flag was raised as well.
“We have made incredible progress in our state,” Bysiewicz said. Raising the flag is an important symbol, that says, “We see you, we respect you, we love you, we have your back,” she said.
But there are towns in the state where town governments don’t allow the Pride flag to be raised, she said, where there is backward movement, attempts to ban books. “Every office matters,” she said, noting that local elections are this fall.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal reiterated some of what he said during a press conference about the Equality Act held in West Hartford on Friday morning.
“This celebration is so important because it does send message to raise a flag to say we see you, but I don’t want to just raise a flag I want to raise a law,” Blumenthal said. “We need the Equality Act in the United States of America. Nobody should be fired, nobody should be denied a loan, nobody should be denied housing simply because of who they are or who they love, and yet every day in America it’s happening.”
The American public is on the right side of history, wants the Equality Act, he said. But there are places, like Florida, where “you really need your political body armor.” He said he hopes that Florida State Representative Michele Rayner-Goolsby, the event’s keynote speaker can go back home, “lifted by our love.”
Adrienne Billings-Smith, West Hartford’s Equity Coordinator, introduced Rayner-Goolsby, who was one of her law school classmates – and is a civil rights and social justice attorney who was the “first openly queer state representative elected in the state of Florida.”
Rayner-Goolsby thanked everyone for showing up, even when the weather – which by then had cleared – was rainy.
“I got stuck with the themes of anxiety and fear,” she said, and the question becomes what to do when fear and anxiety are real.
“Where do we go when hate and fear is embodies in policies and political figures?” she asked. “What do we say when people are fleeing states like mine?”
Florida is in midnight, she said. And quoting Martin Luther King Jr., she said, that midnight was interrupted by a knock. “I would offer to you that the knock is a sign. A knock is a signal, it is a wake-up call.” The oppressive bills, are “antithetical to freedom … it is a knock, it is a wake-up call.”
While Connecticut is different, with access to medical care, access to gender-affirming care, and history can be read. “And in fact, y’all encourage people to be woke. But guess what, my friend, the knock that I am talking about, this call, is a wake-up call for you, too.”
Florida seems to be ground zero for the battle for democracy, she said, particularly war agains the most vulnerable, the trans community, and that’s the wake-up call. “We have a choice in the face of clear and present danger, we have some choices.”
Here, things are good, but you can “have a deep understanding that all of our liberation is tied together. So I am saying West Hartford, we need you, Florida needs you,” Rayner-Goolsby.
Love, in this case, is resistance in the face of hate and fear.
In investing in that, “that is how we answer the knock,” she said. Voting is part of caring for the community, too.
“And so this resistance is based on love and care, and that is how we win … guess what, we are here to stay.”
The most beautiful part about midnight, Rayner-Goolsby said, “the most beautiful part of that knock is that a new day is on the horizon.”
Elise Coleman of the REACH Fund, which supports abortion for those who can’t afford it, and a recent Windsor High School graduate also addressed the crowd.
Following the rally, drummers and dancers held a brief musical performance before leading the crowd to the Pride festival – which due to its greatly expanded size was held this year in the Town Hall parking lot.
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