Easthampton raises Progress Pride flag at event celebrating LGBTQ+ community

By EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer

Published: 05-26-2023 4:19 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Amid a backdrop of frivolity complete with music, a 360-degree photo booth, and rainbow-colored beer cans, the city on Thursday raised the Progress Pride flag in celebration of the LGBTQ+ community as part of its ongoing efforts to be a just and inclusive Easthampton.

The event was held in collaboration with the city and the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce at the Municipal Building’s parking lot as a kickoff to the upcoming national LGBTQ Pride Month, which is observed in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Manhattan. The uprising is often regarded as the catalyst for the LGBTQ liberation movement in the U.S.

“While things are happening in Texas and things are happening in Florida, and atrocities that are said about us, we still show up on a beautiful day in Easthampton, with love and care and joy for each other because with that, we lead what it is to be humanity,” said Grace Moreno, executive director of the chamber. “We lead on what it is to be a giving, loving, human and if we all led in that way, the world would be a different place.”

The chamber, which launched in 2018 and is headquartered in Boston, opened a second office in the Keystone Mill building in Easthampton in November. Moreno credits the chamber’s decision to set up shop in Easthampton to the Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, whom she said was “especially welcoming” to the community.

With a focus on the financial well-being of the LGBTQ community, Moreno explained that the chamber is there to help those in the community start a business or help a business thrive. She noted that western Massachusetts is their fastest-growing sector and currently includes 25% of its members.

Thursday’s event showcased a small section of the business members supported by the chamber, including Easthampton-based Gamut Pins, which was established by Isa Wang in 2016. At the time, Wang, who is trans, said he was often misgendered and could only find plastic buttons. In the search to find something a little dressier, more professional and longer-lasting, he developed metal and enamel pins. Through feedback, he created more designs and different combinations of pronouns.

“This was a side project and I wasn’t sure anyone would be interested in it because at the time, I thought maybe I was the only one with this need. And then I put it out there and it turns out lots of people, including cisgender people who just want to be an ally, people in the medical field, were interested. It gets the conversation started,” he said.

Other businesses at the event included Easthampton’s Sage Meadow Farm LLC, which creates goat milk soaps, communications agency Ivy Hill PR and custom-made jeweler JDB Creations by Joshua.

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Angie Montalvo-Greene, the western Massachusetts engagement director of the chamber, said while the event serves as an opportunity to support LGBTQ+ businesses during Pride Month, she emphasizes the need to support the businesses all year long.

Both Moreno and Montalvo-Greene also spoke to how allies can support the LGBTQ community. White Lion Brewing Company, headquartered in Springfield, partnered with Springfield Pride Parade and created a limited edition beer for Pride with a portion of the proceeds going back to the organization. The company again debuted the beer at the Easthampton event.

The brewery, which is adding a new location in Amherst, is also assisting with a scholarship to Springfield Pride’s Safe Space Summer Program. The program is geared toward LGBTQ students in sixth through 12th grade and focuses on a holistic approach to learning with work anchored in evidence-based social emotional learning strategies in a safe space over the summer.

“These are just part of the principles of white lion, which is a symbol of good for humankind and extension beyond race color, creed or gender. So it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from,” said Ray Berry, founder and president of White Lion. “At the end of the day, it’s about sharing and a common experience. We try to bring everyone into the conversation so it doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, multiple gender identities. We want you to be in a comfortable safe space at White Lion.”

LaChapelle said it was important to have people from other parts of western Massachusetts attend each other’s communities to talk exactly about LGBTQ matters and how it all works together.

Also in attendance were city councilors Koni Denham, James “J.P.” Kwiecinski, Owen Zaret and President Homar Gomez. State Rep. Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, also attended and spoke of the importance of demonstrating pride.

“There are so many different ways we can fight hate in our communities and in our country. And I’m sorry that we have to do it. But we have to. The world’s becoming a more divisive place, our nation’s becoming a more divisive place,” said Carey. “And we have to fight back in each and every opportunity every way that we can, whether it is brewing beer, passing legislation, just showing up or putting that flag up in the air so that everybody who drives through this intersection will see it and know that this community is a community that cares about each other and always will and isn’t afraid to say that we are so thank you for doing your part.”

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