It has been a decade now since New Paltz mayor Jason West solemnized marriage vows for more than two dozen same-sex couples in the village Peace Park on February 27, 2004. This week the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center is commemorating the tenth anniversary of that milestone with “Celebrating a Decade of Change,” a weeklong series of Pride Week events that will culminate on Sunday, June 1 with a march and festival.
“The marriages in New Paltz are such a big part of the history of marriage equality in this country,” says Jan Whitman, board president of the LGBTQ Center. “It was one of the locations where people committed essentially loving acts of civil disobedience that became the building blocks for where we are today in the movement. It’s been a very exciting place from which to participate in social change, and I could not be more proud of this area.”
Individual events for Pride Week have an admission fee of $5, or a $20 Pride Pass can be purchased that allows entrance into all the scheduled happenings. Volunteers for the Center are admitted free.
The LGBTQ Center’s Apuzzo Hall at 300 Wall Street in Kingston will feature a screening of I Am Divine on Thursday, May 29 from 7 to 9 p.m. The film tells the story of Harris Glenn Milstead, better known as larger-than-life drag queen Divine, the ultimate outsider.
The True Colors Open Mic Night, hosted by folk music’s Alix Dobkin, will be held at the same location the following night: Friday, May 30 from 7 to 9 p.m. It’s for any and all talents and those who wish to cheer them on.
The annual Pride Eve wine-and-cheese reception and Volunteer Appreciation Night hosted by the Center’s Board of Directors will take place at Apuzzo Hall on Saturday, May 31 from 5 to 7 p.m. Evan Wolfson, founder and president of the national organization Freedom to Marry, will be guest of honor at the reception.
Wolfson will also serve as grand marshal in Sunday’s march (along with Suzanne McHugh and AnnaMae Schuler, one of the couples married in 2004), Whitman says. “We’re fortunate that, this year of all years, he agreed to come. As someone who really has a long history of work in the social justice field and who is pretty well-recognized as one of the movers and shakers in the nationwide pursuit of marriage equality, it heightens the awareness about what these marriages in New Paltz have meant in the movement.”
Wolfson was honored alongside President Obama in June 2012 as a recipient of the Barnard Medal of Distinction, and Time magazine named Wolfson “one of the 100 most influential people in the world.”
The main events kick off on Sunday, June 1 at 12 noon as participants gather for a rally at the New Paltz Middle School, with the march to Hasbrouck Park beginning at 1 p.m. After the march, the festival will commence with live music by the all-women rock band Big Sister, the rock-fusion group Hemingway’s Cat, the all-youth Percussion Orchestra of Kingston (POOK) and the Center’s Mid-Hudson Rainbow Chorus, the event emceed by comedienne Julie Novak. The party goes until 4 p.m. with vendors, food and activities for kids and families.
At some point in the day there will also be a commemorative plaque installed at the Peace Park recognizing the location of the 2004 marriage ceremonies, says Whitman. New Paltz town board member Dan Torres spearheaded the effort, she says, and has had the plaque made.
After the festival ends, there will be a Party-after-Pride on the Wooftop from 4 to 8 p.m. at Joe’s East West at 254 Main Street in New Paltz. Superior Sounds and the Hudson Valley Bears will host live music by all-women rock band Sister Funk with rooftop dancing. Admission to this event is by Pride Pass or costs $15.
This will be the ninth annual Pride Week celebration sponsored by the LBGTQ Community Center. It began when a group of people came together in the year following the marriages in the Peace Park to talk about putting a commemorative event together, says Whitman. “There were folks who said, ‘We should have a parade,’ and then there were those of us in the camp of, ‘There’s a lot of work still to do in social justice – we want to call it a march.’”
In the end, the decision was made to consider the annual event a march. “But I’m looking forward to a day,” says Whitman, “when so much change has occurred that we can finally just have a parade.”
LGBTQ Pride March & Festival, Sunday, June 1, 12 noon-4 p.m., New Paltz Middle School to Hasbrouck Park; after-party, 4-8 p.m., Joe’s East West, 254 Main Street, New Paltz; (845) 331-5300, www.lgbtqcenter.org.