This year’s Pride March and Festival in New Paltz on Sunday, June 5 will be particularly meaningful given the current political climate, says Fred Mayo, acting executive director and board president at the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center. “It’s really important this year, for us, and I think, for everyone in the Hudson Valley, to do something that shows we support the dignity and value of all people. The political debate in the country has turned against the notion of tolerance and celebration to one in which people are mocked. It’s all been very negative, and I think that’s a sad thing for America in general. But particularly in the LGBTQ community, where we’ve made so many strides, it shows that we have to do more.”
Marchers will assemble between noon and 1 p.m. in the parking lot at New Paltz Middle School, setting off promptly at 1 p.m. down Main Street. The march concludes at Hasbrouck Park, where the festival portion of the event will be held from 2-4 p.m. The afternoon’s post-parade festivities at the park, which go on rain or shine under the tent, will include live music, performers, food trucks and other vendors. The venue for the post-festival celebration that evening has yet to be announced.
This will be the eleventh iteration of the Pride March in New Paltz. Participants will include Dykes on Bikes and Big Gay Hudson Valley along with advocacy organizations GLSEN and PFLAG. Singer/songwriter Kate Pierson, founding member of the B-52s who, as it happens, married her longtime girlfriend in 2015 and has been an avid supporter of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Center, will serve as grand marshal. There will be floats and lots of fun aspects to it all, says Mayo, including lively music from the Rosendale Improvement Association Brass Band.
And first-time observers may be surprised to see that the Pride March includes individuals and representatives of churches, local organizations and teams not directly affiliated with the LGBTQ community, who march as allies and friends. What began in 2005 as a parade to celebrate the history-making same-sex marriages performed in New Paltz in 2004 has evolved with the times to become an event inclusive of not only the region’s LGBTQ community but their families and friends, united in the same cause of equality and acceptance.
“It’s really a community operation,” says Mayo. “And it makes me very proud to be part of this kind of an adventure where people are very clear what statements they want to make and how important it is.”
Mayo has been in all of the New Paltz Pride Marches over the past decade. And the photographs taken at those events tell a story of social evolution. At one of the first marches, Mayo carried the banner for the New Paltz Democratic Committee, invited to do so by then-chair of the committee, Ann Rodman. “And it was just marvelous to be an out gay man walking down Main Street representing the town Democratic Party,” he remembers. Photographs from a few years later show Mayo going down the street carrying the LGBTQ Center’s banner, pushing a stroller containing his little granddaughter waving regally to the crowd. By 2014, the photos show young Nev wearing rainbow tie-dye, old enough to march alongside her grandfather. Last year, Mayo’s entire family joined him, including his other grandkids Sinjin, Sam and Asher along with his daughter-in-law and her mother.
The Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center is in the process of searching for a new executive director, says Mayo, who stepped up to fill the position temporarily while continuing his role as president of the board. Speaking with him about the role families play in the annual Pride March leads to talk of how the Center has made a point of reaching out to area youth. “We have a wonderful group here called ‘The League of Extraordinary Genders,'” he says, “for young people who are gender-fluid or nonconforming.” The Center offers youth a safe place to go to where they can try on different clothing and see how it feels, he explains. One of the things that has surprised him, Mayo says, is that many young people don’t know about the history of the Pride movement and have no idea what older LGBTQ persons went through in the past.
In part for that reason, one of the events the Center is sponsoring in their Pride Week leading up to the Pride March and Festival is a discussion on Thursday, June 2 at 7 p.m. called “Gay, Lesbian, Trans-Old and Proud: Our Stories.” The panel discussion will feature Pasha Clarke, Harold Goldman, Ted Hayes, Cusie Pfeifer, Evi Seidman, Marty Singleton and Luci Young, “elders” who will discuss what it was like being LGBTQ when it was difficult — if not impossible — to be “out and proud.” Refreshments will be served before, during and after the event.
The Center is also hosting an art exhibit of drawings and paintings by New Paltz High School students and alumni. The show remains on view through Friday, June 17 (the week before graduation). “It’s great to see the New Paltz students wanting to show their work as a way to support Pride and the Center,” says Mayo.
In addition, the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center has an ongoing partnership with GLSEN Hudson Valley (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) in the Safe Schools Round Table of the Hudson Valley. The coalition of school leaders, educators, youth service professionals, parents and students from across the region work together to improve school safety for vulnerable youth and inclusion for LGBTQ students. Currently in its third year, the Round Table meets regularly in Ulster and Dutchess counties. There is also the Working It Out Project for LGBTQ youth and their allies, a 10-14-week skills-building and leadership program offering support and guidance to LGBTQ high school students.
As the Community Center’s website puts it, “It’s all about building tomorrows that are infinitely saner, safer and healthier than our yesterdays.”
More information about the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center and the Pride March and Festival is available by calling (845) 331-5300 or visit www.lgbtqcenter.org.