When a social movement adopts the rainbow as its symbol, it’s easy to imagine the weather gods taking that as an open invitation to send rain to bless any LGBTQ-themed outdoor gathering. This past Sunday was looking dicey for the 16th annual Hudson Valley Pride March and Festival, with weather forecasts projecting a significant chance of thunderstorms for much of the afternoon. It’s a rain-or-shine event, though, and participants bring with them an aura of positivity so powerful that one might expect raindrops to bounce right off it.
To stay on the safe side, a circus-sized tent is set up for the entertainment area at Hasbrouck Park, where the parade eventually ends up. As it turned out, however, the threatened storms held off, with only the faintest sprinkle of rain tickling the marchers as they set out from the New Paltz Middle School to head down Main Street. Clad in jeans, a black fishnet shirt and flashy gold earrings, deejay Kiley J. Winn led the festive entourage in a truck that was blaring out Pride anthems such as Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way.” From a vantage point in front of the Elting Library, Winn announced each organized group of marchers as they swung around the turn onto Plattekill Avenue.
The activist brass band Tin Horn Uprising set the pace, with staff and volunteers from Kingston’s Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center, who organize the parade each year, stepping close behind. The event’s municipal hosts, including New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers and Deputy Mayor KT Tobin, carried the Village of New Paltz banner, followed by State Senator Jen Metzger. Representatives of every imaginable remotely-LGBTQ-related activist organization in the region followed in their wake, including the Gay/Straight Alliances, Human Rights Clubs, GLSEN and PFLAG groups from various local high schools and middle schools; Rondout Valley brought its own marching band. At least half a dozen church congregations marched, proudly proclaiming their inclusivity. Roller derby skaters and young hula-hoopers added their moves to the festive atmosphere.
An open car bore this year’s two grand marshals for the parade, one holding a rainbow umbrella just in case. Veteran civil rights activist Denise Oliver-Velez is known for having brought women into the leadership of the Young Lords in the 1960s, for co-founding the first minority-controlled Pacifica radio station, WPFW, and for her time at the helm of the Black Filmmakers’ Foundation; more recently she has taught Anthropology and Women’s Studies at SUNY New Paltz and been a contributing editor at the Daily Kos. Orange County community organizer Rae Leiner is co-founder/co-director of the Newburgh LGBTQ+ Center.
It was no coincidence that women of color were spotlighted at this year’s event, whose theme, Looking Back, Marching Forward, was chosen to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York City that propelled gay rights to the forefront of public consciousness in 1969. According to Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center executive director Jeff Rindler, “History has rewritten what really happened back then, to make it look like it was all about gay white males. We wanted to represent and honor the trans women of color who truly started the Stonewall Riots.” It’s a continuation of the theme of intersectionality among marginalized social groups that the March and Festival’s organizers began emphasizing last year.
Rindler seemed delighted with the large and diverse turnout, which looked to be in the thousands again for 2019. “It’s another record-breaking year with the crowd,” he said. Asked to reflect on the pace of social change since last year’s event, which included plenty of congressional candidates in the March and places to register to vote at the Festival, he cited some significant breakthroughs made possible by the election of a Democratic majority in the State Senate for the first time in many years. “One of the first things that our governor did was pass GENDA [the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act], as well as banning the barbaric practice of conversion therapy in New York State,” Rindler noted. “That happened right after the midterm – within a week. They would never even bring it forward before that; it was dead in the water. They waited for a change in leadership.”
GENDA added gender identity and gender expression to the state’s human rights and hate crimes laws as protected classes; banned discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on gender identity and gender expression; and provided enhanced penalties for bias-motivated crimes. First introduced in 2003, the bill passed the Assembly every year from 2008 to 2019, but did not receive a floor vote in the State Senate until January 2019.
That victory doesn’t mean that the movement’s battles are all won, of course. That’s where the Marching Forward part of this year’s slogan comes in: “We’re still having to fight to maintain the rights that we have won over the past 50 years.”