A first: Belchertown holds Pride flag-raising

  • Belchertown recognized National Pride Month with a flag-raising ceremony on Monday, June 28. From left, Marc Barrette, of Belchertown Pride; Ken Elstein, chairperson of Belchertown Board of Health; Jim Barry, vice chairperson of the Select Board; Jaime Michaels, co-leader of Belchertown Pride; Lesa Lessard Pearson, co-leader of Belchertown Pride; and Belchertown Town Administrator Gary Brougham. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/29/2022 7:50:18 PM

BELCHERTOWN — The town capped off the end of National Pride Month with its first-ever Pride flag-raising ceremony at Belchertown Town Hall on Tuesday.

The event followed a celebratory Select Board meeting held on Monday when the board unanimously passed a proclamation recognizing the importance of National Pride Month for LGBTQIA+ people as well as the entire community.

“I’m absolutely so proud of our community and want to show appreciation for the newly formed Belchertown Pride group for bringing this important request before the board,” said Select Board Chairperson Jennifer D. Turner. “I am thankful that we are able to make an impact as a supportive ally and symbolize Belchertown’s commitment to all who live, work and visit our town that they are in a safe inclusive welcoming community.”

In addition to recognizing the month of June as National Pride Month, the proclamation states, “The recognition of National Pride Month sends a clear message to all of our residents that the Town of Belchertown is committed to being a welcoming, inclusive, safe, and respectful community for everyone who lives and visits here.”

Pride Month is celebrated every June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Manhattan, which is regarded as the catalyst for the LGBTQ liberation movement in the U.S. The flag-raising ceremony was held on the 53rd anniversary of the uprising.

Last May, resident Marc Barrette had submitted a request to have the Pride flag flown at Town Hall, but was denied after the board indicated it needed to create a flag policy, according to Jaime Michaels, co-leader of Belchertown Pride. Michaels said that Barrette had originally submitted his request to have the rainbow-colored Pride flag under what was described as a “guest flag.”

The flag was allowed this year because the Select Board’s proclamation is considered a government action, as opposed to a public request, Turner said.

Seeing the Pride flag wave in Belchertown was something that left Michaels, who came out as a lesbian more than 40 years ago, pretty choked up, she admits.

“With the rise of violence against LGBTQIA+ people, it’s imperative for every community to send a clear message of support, safety and inclusivity,” she said. “It really makes a difference. That flag gives you a sense of ease and belonging — it symbolizes a welcome community, my community. Belchertown.”

In learning that the community had never flown a Pride flag before, Lesa Lessard Pearson, who moved to Belchertown 19 months ago, said she knew she had to change that.

Lessard Pearson teamed up with Michaels to form Belchertown Pride.

“I met Jaime just two weeks ago … we worked around the clock to organize and do research in writing the proclamation to meet the deadline of the next Select Board meeting on June 27 as the one prior was held in May,” said Lessard Pearson. “This flag-raising is long overdue.”

The impact via social media has been tremendous with hundreds of comments on numerous Belchertown pages voicing support, said Lessard Pearson.

With this step in the books, the group hopes to offer events throughout the year and wants to have a flag-raising that can last throughout the month of June in future years.

The mission of the newly formed organization is to build stronger connections in the LGBTQIA+ community and provide a better understanding of the community through educational awareness and cultural events.

For those interested in joining future efforts, email Belchertownpride@gmail.com.

“This is a new day for Belchertown. We are Belchertown Pride and Belchertown Proud,” said Michaels.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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