June is Gay Pride month, marking the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots: a revolt that ignited the previously marginalized LGBTQ community of Greenwich Village and launched the beginning of the Gay Rights movement in America. And while that community has lots to celebrate this year, with the validation of marriage equality and a growing number of same-sex marriages taking place, it’s good to remember that only a few years ago, homosexuals of any ilk had no positive name for themselves. The acronym had not been invented, and the very labels “gay” and “queer” were uttered as derogatory terms. Early organizations like the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists’ Alliance pointed out not only the hypocrisies of homophobic society and the inequities levied against homosexuals, but also greatly promoted their own self-identification. They took back those derogatory terms and elevated them to a dignified declaration of self.
Stephan Hengst, director of communications for the Culinary Institute of America, and his husband Patrick Decker, who works in television production in New York City, started Big Gay Hudson Valley (BGHV) as a source for disseminating gay and lesbian information and resources in the local region. “We realized there were a lot of smaller groups doing things independently, often on the same day at the same time,” says Hengst. “It became evident that people weren’t sharing information. As tools like Facebook grew, we realized we had many circles of overlapping friends, communities that had things going on for themselves, but they weren’t telling each other. We started sharing information on Facebook, and then we created our website biggayhudsonvalley.com in 2008.”
At the same time, they threw an “impromptu picnic” attended by a few hundred people, which became the first Pride Preview Party, to bring together people from all over the Hudson Valley and get the word out about all their various, separate celebrations and activities. “Last year we had 700 people there,” says Hengst. This year an entire weekend of events is planned for the Memorial Day holiday to encourage regional visitors to come to Poughkeepsie and enjoy what the Hudson Valley has to offer.
Big Gay Hudson Valley’s fourth annual Pride Preview Weekend is the kickoff to gay pride season, with three major happenings from May 25 to May 27. On Friday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., the Pride Preview Kickoff Party will be held at the new Out Bar at 206 Main Street in Poughkeepsie. On Saturday, join a Pride Preview Cruise on the Hudson onboard Empire Cruise Line’s Mystere. And on Sunday, the Pride Preview Party – a bring-your-own picnic – will be held at the Locust Grove Estate. Crumb Bakery & Café will be selling sandwiches, salads, desserts and drinks from its menu, but there will not be a bar set up on site. Those of legal drinking age are invited to pack in their favorite adult beverage. Attendees are encouraged to bring picnic food to share with their friends. Also, note that Locust Grove welcomes dogs on a leash and children running loose.
Entertainment for the evening includes live performances by Deejay Ali from Rosendale, Drag Bingo Cabaret with Hudson’s Trixie Starr & Ophelia Nightly of the Hudson Pride Foundation and acclaimed New York City gay performer and music producer Deejay Cazwell. Also present that evening will be William Noonan, a gay Ulster County artist, who will exhibit some of his recent work. “Everyone’s welcome to our events,” says Hengst. “At Big Gay Hudson Valley, it’s all about small-town life and big gay fun.”
Pride Preview Weekend – sponsored by the Out Bar, Dutchess County Tourism, Ruge’s Automotive in Rhinebeck, Bard College’s SummerScape, Vassar’s Powerhouse Theater and others – will be followed by the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Center’s Pride March and Festival on Sunday, June 3 in New Paltz. Don’t miss transgender singer/songwriter Ryan Cassata, the all-woman rock band Big Sister and Ubaka Hill, performing from 1 to 4 p.m. after the parade at Hasbrouck Park.
For details about these events, plus the “Party-after-Pride” at Joe’s East/West in New Paltz from 4 to 9 p.m. and a “Rainbow Screen” film fest taking place at the Kingston headquarters of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center that week, see www.lgbtqcenter.org/pride/2012/2012_pride_events. Also, check out Albany’s Pride Parade on Sunday, June 10 and the Hudson Pride Foundation’s Parade in the City of Hudson on Saturday, June 16.