Over 5,000 crowd downtown Northampton to take in the colorful chaos of the annual gay pride march

Last modified: Tuesday, August 05, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — A festive mood took over downtown Saturday as thousands took to the streets to march and watch the 33rd annual Gay Pride march.

The signature rainbow balloon arch turned on to Main Street promptly at noon, heralding the organized chaos that would make its way though the heart of the city for just under an hour.

The status quo was turned upside down with Dykes on Bikes leading the procession — without helmets — as spectators rushed onto the median separating the east and westbound sides of Main Street. Other sights included people hanging out of pickup trucks and dancing on flatbed tow trucks and convertibles. Books piled on its front and rear windshields partially obscured the view from inside the Out Books on Wheels car.

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Northampton police estimated 2,000 marchers and between 5,000 and 7,000 spectators were on hand. Churches, health care organizations, schools and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations were the most well-represented groups among participants.

J.M. Sorrell, spokesperson and volunteer for Northampton Pride, which organized the event, said she was pleased at the turnout.

“I’m always astounded that it gets bigger every year, just when you think it’s at capacity,” she said.

Sorrell noted the diversity in parade contingents and pointed out the large number of high school gay-straight alliance groups represented.

“It’s amazing how many allies we have these days compared to 30 years ago,” she said. “Their friends aren’t kicking their butts. They’re supporting them.”

There were over 20 educational institutions represented in the procession, ranging from the horse-drawn carriage of the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Stonewall Center to the 85-person foot march of Springfield Public Schools’ Gay Straight Alliance.

East Longmeadow’s high school’s Gay Straight Alliance was out in full force. After the parade, some members were taking in the sights at the Three County Fairgrounds, where the post-march rally was held. Sophomore student Alison Phillips and her friends say they were impressed by the number of churches and religious groups that participated.

“People think you can either be religious or support LGBT rights,” she said. “Why can’t you [do] both?”

The 20-plus religious groups represented in the march indicate that many subscribe to Phillips’ way of thinking.

The Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst, Westhampton Congregational Church, Congregation B’nai Israel of Northampton, Hadley’s Wesley United Methodist Church and Pioneer Valley Progressive Muslims were some of the faith groups that participated.

The East Longmeadow students were enjoying the scenery.

“It’s so much more fun here,” Phillips said. “If people dressed like this at school it would be awesome.”

Marchers and spectators alike put their best — and boldest — fashion foot forward. Aside from the classic addition of drag performers from Diva’s Nightclub, whose float capped off the procession with lively dancing and lip-synching to remixed pop hits, many floats featured wild costumes.

One float contained a number of scantily clad people in a jungle-themed presentation, some covered only with leaves for decency.

The procession also included some more traditional offerings. While their float dubbed them the “Healthy Living Superheroes,” Urgent Care Center of Northampton was one of the groups handing out parade favorites like candy and beads.

“We should throw small tubes of toothpaste afterward to ease our guilt,” said Lauren Phillips of Longmeadow, a medical scribe at the company.

“I just like that the community is here and is so supportive,” she added. “This is such a joyous occasion.”

Erin Frawley of Stoughton, director of the Freedom Trail Band, said her group has marched in the Northampton celebration each year since she joined the group in 1995. The LGBT band is based in Boston, and was formed in 1985 to march in that city’s pride parade. While the group is used to the Beantown march, Frawley said members enjoy coming to the Valley to celebrate.

“It’s more intimate. It’s smaller,” she said. “Smaller cities tend to generate a bigger response.”

The band marched to a repertoire that included gay-icon Lady Gaga’s hits “Born This Way” and “Edge of Glory” and regional favorite “Shipping Up to Boston.”

A sense of community and togetherness was a common refrain among participants and spectators alike. Pride spokesperson Sorrell said she has only missed one of the last 33 events. She said she enjoys people coming out in large numbers, as members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender communities convene to enjoy a once yearly celebration of their own.

“I try to fill a civic duty,” she said. “It’s for all of us to own.”