When the universally recognized symbol of your social movement is a rainbow, it takes more than just a little rainy weather to put a damper on New Paltz’s annual Pride March and Festival. Though the first drops began to fall as the line of march moved down Main Street early Sunday afternoon, turnout for the 2017 event was more than double the previous year’s attendance. “We had over 700 people marching today!” exulted Jeff Rindler, executive director of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center.
Organizers attributed the surge of support for the event to the current political climate in the US, in which legal gains by the LGBTQ community in the past decade are being eroded in the wake of the 2016 elections. Although Pride Month rallies around the country have established a tradition of being upbeat, life-affirming cultural events rather than angry demonstrations, a renewed spirit of political resistance and activism seems to be taking hold.
“We want to hold a celebration in our hearts because we’ve come so far, but this year, it’s clear we need to be advocates and get out on the streets, as we were almost 50 years ago,” Rindler said. “The question is no longer, ‘Will I get involved?’ but ‘How will I get involved?’ We can’t stand on the side anymore.”
The reference to the modern LGBTQ movement’s birth during the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City was one of many such cited during the day’s speeches. Among the marchers was a Stonewall veteran, Jay Toole, who later went on to a career organizing and running support groups for gay homeless people. This was the first visit to the New Paltz Pride March for Toole, who recently moved from the City to Neversink in Sullivan County. “It’s so great to see young people dress the way they want,” said Toole, taking in the colorful array of parade participants. “I’m loving it. But we still have to fight.”
“Pride’s 2017 theme is ‘Taking a Stand,’” explained Jake Salt, director of programs and services at the Center, “because obviously, what’s going on at the federal level and how it bleeds down to the local level, how it impacts culture generally has made it critically important to stand together.” Salt said that the Kingston-based Center is “making a real move towards becoming a real advocacy organization. There’s much more grassroots organizing.”
Programs at the Center are also expanding, according to Rindler, with an upsurge in participation especially by youth. “We have a lot of new people coming, and they’re giving us incredible ideas,” he said. “It’s galvanized so much energy.” One such young activist, 19-year-old Morgan Breen of Kingston, helps to run a program called the League of Extraordinary Genders, which helps middle school and high school-aged transgendered people through their difficult transition of gender identity. The group’s recent activities have included a used clothing drive. “It’s really hard for a trans person to be comfortable trying on clothes,” Breen pointed out, especially in stores with separate male and female fitting rooms.
Young people were much in evidence at the march — not just college and high school students, but also many families with young children, including both same-sex couples and heterosexual allies. “I love seeing all the families here,” Rindler told the vividly costumed, highly diverse crowd that gathered under a large canopy at Hasbrouck Park as the rainfall began to intensify following the march. “When one person is held down, everyone is held down.”
Intersectionality with other social movements was also a prominent theme of the day. The parade’s grand marshal, journalist/novelist/activist Tim Murphy, emphasized the need for the LGBTQ movement to make common cause with other marginalized groups, including Muslims, immigrants, people of color and women. Murphy, one of the founders of both Rise and Resist and Gays against Guns, rallied the crowd to “Fight back with love against hate and injustice! Resist! Resist!” Declining to mention any specific legislators’ names because he did not wish to jeopardize the Center’s not-for-profit status, Murphy urged his listeners to get involved in the 2018 Congressional elections: “We know who’s on Team Trump. I want to see everyone in this room play a role in trying to flip that seat!”
Flipping the presidency, symbolically speaking, was an option in one of the booths set up by other organizations participating in the festival: In order to attract more people to register to vote and to sign petitions to the Ulster County Legislature, the New Paltz Division of Indivisible Ulster was touting a carnival game called Balled-Face Liar. Visitors could toss a ball at a pyramid of bottles, filled with orange-tinted liquid and glitter and adorned with cartoon faces of Donald Trump, and attempt to topple them. “Win a bag of Cheetos!” cried the barker. Meanwhile, in an adjoining tent run by Safe Homes of Orange County, attendees could get a free packet of Skittles along with information about sanctuary programs for immigrants and refugees.
The festival portion of the day’s celebrations consisted largely of musical performances by the likes of the Dixieland band Tin Horn Uprising, a cappella singers Key of Q and singer/songwriter Dizzy Parker. A variety of food trucks were also on hand at Hasbrouck Park; but the music tent was the focal point as the afternoon waned and the rain came down harder. Spirits remained high, putting Washington on notice: This is a demographic that simply can’t be repressed.