Ninth annual Pride March commemorates pioneering same-sex weddings in New Paltz

Members of the New Paltz High School Gay Straight Alliance proudly represented their school in the march. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Members of the New Paltz High School Gay Straight Alliance proudly represented their school in the march. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

New Paltz was swirl of rainbow sombreros, balloons, flags and pride this past Sunday during the ninth annual Pride March that celebrated “Where It all Began,” honoring the decision of the Village of New Paltz’s then- and current mayor Jason West’s decision to marry 24 same-sex couples in 2004, Denise Jelley’s idea to spearhead the first Pride March and eventually the creation of the LGBTQ Community Center in Kingston.

“There’s a real history here,” said Jan Whitman, president of the LGBTQ Community Center’s Board of Directors. “We had Mayor West solemnize the marriages; then Denise Jelley start this amazing Pride March — all of which planted the seeds for what is now a Community Center in the Hudson Valley, which we’re so blessed to have.”

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“What Mayor West did was to practice social justice and stand up in the face of bias and violence. It took courage to do that, as he received death threats and was arrested. But look at where we are today: Same-sex marriage is legal in New York State,” said board vice president JoAnne Meyers.

Jelley, a longtime activist and founder of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Pride March, was one of two Grand Marshals of the parade this year. “I can’t believe I’m the Grand Marshal of anything!” she said with a laugh. “I had the idea, but it took the hard work of so many people in such a short time — eight weeks to pull of that first Pride March — that I just want to put them all in the car with me. I need a float!”

Jelley and her partner at the time and five children were looking to move off Long Island. She saw New Paltz on the news, with Mayor West solemnizing the marriages, and she thought to herself, “Now that’s the kind of place where I want to live!”

And she hasn’t been disappointed. “It’s such an affirming, accepting place to live, and my children have had wonderful experiences growing up here. I can’t believe it’s been nine years!” As for its continued success, attracting approximately 2,500 people and growing every year, Jelley said, “I think it’s important that we show our pride and continue to dispel myths. We are your neighbors, your social worker, your nurse, your doctor, your teacher. We’re not obscure; we’re here, and proud to be here and part of the fabric of the community.”

The Grand Marshal honor was shared with Jelley by Francena Amparo, an openly lesbian elected official and the first Hispanic woman to serve on the Dutchess County legislature (D-14) when she was elected in 2011. “There are many qualities that make up being a politician,” she said. “Being openly gay and Latina are just two of mine. I’m a whole person who simply wants to serve my community.”

Originally from the Bronx, Amparo said that, with the history of the same-sex marriages in New Paltz, the annual Pride Festival and the LGBTQ Center, “This feels like such a gay-friendly place, such a happening and supportive place, and I’m honored to be one of the Grand Marshals.”

Her sister and niece came up from the Bronx to support her. “I’m so proud of her and everything she’s accomplished at such a young age. She’s an inspiration to me, and such a wonderful aunt. My girls love her!”

Kathy Kinsella said that she has been coming since the “first year and every year since. I think it’s important to celebrate the strides we’ve made, but we also can’t be lulled into complacency,” she said. “Yes, we want to celebrate our achievements; but until every person, regardless of their gender or creed or color, has full civil rights, then we can’t stop — and we won’t stop.”

Kinsella is the first openly lesbian highway superintendent to be elected in New York State, in Rhinebeck. “Not only that, but out of 932 elected superintendent of highway positions in New York, only seven of us are women!”

The march kicked off with a motorcycle band revving its engines, the Grand Marshals in a convertible, a huge arch of rainbow-colored balloons, the New Paltz High School Gay/Straight Alliance, the Rosendale Improvement Association Brass Band, floats and sponsors and people filled with pride as they made their way down Main Street to Hasbrouck Park. There, the festival part of the day continued for hours, with live music, informational booths, dancing, singing and a lot of celebrating of where it all started.