Pride to make comeback: After a 3-year hiatus, new group preps for in-person celebration on May 6

By Emily Thurlow

Staff Writer

Published: 04-07-2023 6:00 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Pride is making a colorful return to the city this May complete with a small festival and parade courtesy of a new organization called Hampshire Pride.

Picking up the rainbow-colored baton to lead this year’s festivities is Clay Pearson.

A native of northern Florida, Pearson moved to the Valley in 2008 to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and attended his first Pride event in Northampton the following year.

The event allowed him to connect with others in the LGBT community and make friends. He even joined an LGBTQ dodgeball league, which is now called Rainbow Dodgeball of the Pioneer Valley.

“I came out in 2008 and when I moved to the Valley, Pride was a space I could be out and proud,” he said. “I was incapable of doing that until I came to western Massachusetts.”

When concerns bubbled up that a parade and festival might not happen again — the event last took place in 2019 — Pearson stepped up in February and started planning.

Pride-related events have evolved since the first rally was held in Northampton in 1982. At the time, it was less common for members of the LGBT community to come out, with photos from that time showing some people marching with bags over their heads and signs noting oppression. Others from the community said they received threats leading up to the parade.

Over time, the annual parade grew to include a festival that once attracted as many as 40,000 people at the Three County Fairgrounds.

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When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the annual event was canceled for the last three years. The last official in-person Pride event took place in 2019, although a small gathering of people marched through Northampton’s downtown last year, including some of the event’s original marchers.

Since 2010, the annual parade and festival has been run by a nonprofit organization called Noho Pride. As of this week, the nonprofit status of this organization is unclear. The entity’s website still states the group is envisioning Noho Pride for May 2023.

Attempts to reach past organizers of Noho Pride have been unsuccessful. The state attorney general’s office also could not provide any information regarding the status change of the organization.

In March, Pearson established Hampshire Pride LLC and until this past week, was fundraising exclusively through drag shows. Pearson, who has a master’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in polymer science and engineering, both from the UMass, works for a Netherlands-based company that makes “bioplastics” that are made from renewable resources rather than traditional plastics.

In his free time, he dabbles in drag with an ever-changing persona as the Inappropriate Pun Queen.

“While my day-to-day life is more rigid and heteronormative as an engineer, my nightlife is typically gay, queer, and drag-oriented,” he said.

Hampshire Pride has recently partnered with the Holyoke cultural nonprofit Gateway City Live and are now able to accept tax-deductible donations from corporate sponsors.

While Hampshire Pride is still finalizing some of the specifics for this year’s event, Pearson says that the May 6 celebration will be a much smaller affair than previous years. There will be a festival and parade, complete with speakers, drag performances, musical entertainment and vendors at the Armory Street lot located behind Thornes Marketplace.

Within the next year, Pearson has his sights set on establishing Hampshire Pride as a nonprofit organization. In the meantime, he promises that this year’s event will provide both an awareness and a celebration of the LGBTQ community.

“This is a grassroots uprising,” he said. “We’re filling a space that does not exist.”

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Emily Thurlow can be reached at]]>