‘We can just be who we are’: Thousands show support for LGBTQ community at Hampshire Pride

The Majestic Saloon float makes its way down Main Street as thousands gather for the Hampshire Pride parade Saturday in Northampton.

The Majestic Saloon float makes its way down Main Street as thousands gather for the Hampshire Pride parade Saturday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Pride flags fly as thousands gather for the Hampshire Pride parade Saturday in Northampton.

Pride flags fly as thousands gather for the Hampshire Pride parade Saturday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

The Majestic Saloon float makes its way down Main Street as thousands gather for the Hampshire Pride parade Saturday in Northampton.

The Majestic Saloon float makes its way down Main Street as thousands gather for the Hampshire Pride parade Saturday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Crowd members pack in between the E.J. Gare parking garage and the Thornes Marketplace building to see the drag performance by Bella Santerella during the Hampshire Pride festival Saturday in Northampton.

Crowd members pack in between the E.J. Gare parking garage and the Thornes Marketplace building to see the drag performance by Bella Santerella during the Hampshire Pride festival Saturday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Crowd members pack in between the E.J. Gare parking garage and the Thornes Marketplace building to see the drag performance by Yanalexia Zatish during the Hampshire Pride festival Saturday in Northampton.

Crowd members pack in between the E.J. Gare parking garage and the Thornes Marketplace building to see the drag performance by Yanalexia Zatish during the Hampshire Pride festival Saturday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Francie Hiza, left, pours glitter on Claire Witkewicz during the Hampshire Pride festival Saturday in Northampton.

Francie Hiza, left, pours glitter on Claire Witkewicz during the Hampshire Pride festival Saturday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Magnolia Masquerade addresses the crowd gathered for drag performances during the Hampshire Pride festival Saturday in Northampton.

Magnolia Masquerade addresses the crowd gathered for drag performances during the Hampshire Pride festival Saturday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Parade marchers make their way down Main Street as thousands gather for the Hampshire Pride parade Saturday in Northampton.

Parade marchers make their way down Main Street as thousands gather for the Hampshire Pride parade Saturday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Parade marchers make their way down Main Street as thousands gather for the Hampshire Pride parade Saturday in Northampton.

Parade marchers make their way down Main Street as thousands gather for the Hampshire Pride parade Saturday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By ELISE LINSCOTT

For the Gazette

Published: 05-05-2024 12:18 PM

Modified: 05-05-2024 1:35 PM


NORTHAMPTON — While the focus was on celebrating and supporting the LGBTQ community on Saturday during Hampshire Pride, there were also calls for Palestinian liberation, disrupting the mayoral proclamation with chants calling for a cease-fire and speaking out against defense contractor L3 Harris.

The Hampshire Pride parade, which has existed in some form since the 1980s, started at Sheldon Field and marched down Bridge Street to Main Street, ending near the Armory Street lot where more than 100 vendors and two stages were set up.

The festivities, formerly organized by NoHo Pride pre-pandemic, came back last year after a multi-year hiatus and are now organized by nonprofit Hampshire Pride. This year, organizers aimed to make it bigger and better, attracting thousands to the city.

Jes Slavin, who watched the parade with friends along Bridge Street, voiced the sentiment felt by many: “It’s awesome to see the whole community coming together.”

“[I’ve been thinking about] how essential Pride is right now in this country, and how we’re so lucky to have such a loving community where I feel like I can be safe here and celebrate with everyone,” said Leigh Gehringer-Wiar, who was sitting with Slavin. “And that’s not the case everywhere, so it’s even more important we show up for it now.”

Gehringer-Wiar, a local high school teacher, said she watched the parade last year. This year, she noticed all the young people marching by.

“I’m in my second year teaching now, and I’m thinking about my students and how it’s so important for them to have a place to express themselves,” she said. “It’s so cool there’s a place where so many young people come together.”

Danni DeSerres, who lives downtown, watched the parade with her 5-month-old daughter, Axelle. DeSerres said she moved away and came back to Northampton because “it’s such a nice, accepting community.” She hopes her daughter will grow up with the values of Pride, “being open and just being who you are — the cliches of Pride, but they’re cliche for a reason.”

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Hampshire Pride organizer Clay Pearson said this year’s Pride had twice as many people walking in the parade — about 1,800 from 77 organizations — and twice as many vendors, too, compared to last year. One of the two festival stages was dedicated solely to drag performances, including a drag storytime for families. There was also an American Sign Language interpreter for the mayoral proclamation and drag storytime.

“We’re trying to make this as accessible as possible,” Pearson said once the parade groups and marchers reached the festival area. “The reason why we have it behind Thornes [Marketplace] is because this place is relatively level ground and wheelchair accessible, and the fairgrounds is not so much.

“Everything is bigger, better, bolder; I love it,” Pearson continued. “Look at it, there’s so many people here. My heart is aflutter. And the weather; I don’t know how we could’ve done anything better than this. Everything has gone so well. I’m so happy.”

The parade included local businesses, school affinity groups, Girl Scout troops and recreational groups sporting rainbow flags, along with balloon floats atop trucks, people dancing in the back and alongside, and marchers throwing candy to spectators.

One group marching in the parade included members of the organization Valley Families for Palestine.

“We’re a local community of parents who come together for family-friendly action to support Palestinian liberation,” said Leyla Moushabeck, an organizer with Valley Families for Palestine. “We very much see our liberation struggles as tied to other liberation struggles, so we are here to support queer and Palestinian solidarity.”

“One of the key messages we want to share with the community is … all oppression is connected, and we’re here to support other groups in the community who are doing similar work,” said Jill Brevik of Valley Families for Palestine. “Using this as an example of coming to Pride, we really see the intersectionality between all of our issues. … None of us are free until all of us are free.”

As Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra took the stage for the mayoral proclamation, pro-Palestinian supporters chanted over a loudspeaker and drowned out much of her speech and introductions of City Council members. Pride organizers tried briefly to stop the protests, but ultimately let them continue. Chants included “no pride in genocide” and “L3Harris, what do you say? How many kids have you killed today?”

“Northampton is no longer a progressive community as long as L3Harris continues to operate,” protesters said at the end of the proclamation. Since last October, pro-Palestinian protesters have called for L3Harris to be shut down.

After the proclamation and protests ended, the festival continued with bands, choirs and theater groups performing on the main stage.

“I’m the mother of a trans teenager,” said Kristen Graser, who was walking around the festival with her family. “We relocated here [from the Bay Area] a few years ago, and it’s very refreshing for a parent to know that there’s a safe space for their trans person to grow and develop, and be in their full self and who they are.”

Vendors included artisans, nonprofits and businesses. One of those vendors was Handiqueers, co-founded by T. Lee two years ago.

“I just feel like we’ve come really far where we can be so gay and so free about it now,” Lee said. “Twenty years ago when I was around here growing up, it just wasn’t the same. Now I feel like I watched the lineup of all the cars getting ready to be in the parade, the floats, and it looked like a lot of joy. I feel really grateful we live in a place where we can just be who we are.”

Hampshire Pride coordinator River Matos, who helped organize the festival, shared similar feelings.

“It’s really important and close to my heart to be part of this community because they give me so much,” Matos said.