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In New York City in 1969, what started as a series of riots and violent acts of resistance to injustice by the LGBTQ+ community evolved into celebrations and parades, which over the decades have spread to cities around the world. In 2020, for the first time, Madison will offer that same opportunity to its LGBTQ+ residents as PrideFest 2020 comes to the green this Oct. 17, the first of what organizers hope becomes an annual event.
PrideFest 2020 will feature live music and speakers and informational and educational booths from local LGBTQ+ organizations. It will also conform to the strictures of the pandemic, with mandatory mask-wearing and limitations on attendance overseen by local health officials.
But for many, none of that will put a damper on the feeling of finally seeing flags representing LGBTQ+ identities flying over Madison.
“We’ve been thinking about these ideas for a while,” said Oak Walker, a recent Daniel Hand High School (DHHS) grad and one of the organizers. “We’ve mentioned we wanted to do a pride thing, but it’s been like, a dream—we didn’t think it would happen.”
Born out of a special initiative in the Madison Diversity and Inclusion Club, which itself grew as a ministry of the First Congregational Church and now has almost 500 members, PrideFest will be a family-friendly and fun, high-energy opportunity for anyone who wants to learn about, connect with, and support their LGBTQ+ neighbors, according to Justin Zeigler, another organizer.
“I’m a firm believer that anytime a community comes together, especially around celebration, that’s an idea of community activism,” Zeigler said. “Showing up and celebrating and being part of the community, that is activism.”
Andrew Serrano, another organizer, said he saw the event as “a wonderful catalyst to bring people together, spark those conversations” around gender, sexuality, and identity, which many residents might not have had.
While many pride events have been associated with particular causes, including marriage equality, workplace discrimination, or other issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community, Zeigler said he doesn’t believe that an event like PrideFest has to have that kind of an explicit rallying point or message to create change.
In the past, much of the focus by LGBTQ+ folks and advocates in Madison has been trained on the school system through clubs and education, according to Walker.
Walker contrasted the Madison event with one of Connecticut’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, True Colors, which holds an annual conference at UConn featuring workshops and speakers, gathering students from all over the state to learn about a wide variety of topics, from LGBTQ+ history to health practices.
“It’s definitely a celebration and a connecting of [the] community. True Colors does connect communities, but I feel like that’s our focus even more,” Walker said.
Both Walker and Zeigler said they had seen Madison grow in its acceptance and knowledge of LGBTQ+ identities and issues. Walker couldn’t imagine anything like PrideFest happening in Madison even a decade ago.
“It’s really special to me to see how much growth is happening in our community,” Walker said, “and the fact that yes, LGBTQ+ people live in our community and live nearby and they own businesses and they have resources—they are our community, it’s not separate. We’re all a community together.”
Connecting people, specifically young people, to others who have shared their experience or their identity is vitally important for health and growth, Zeigler said. LGBTQ+ people experience higher levels of mental health distress from rejection and bullying, as well as increased barriers to access of health care and other vital services.
“Coming together, saying, ‘There are people who love and look like me,’” Zeigler said. “That’s why celebration is activism, because sometimes you [need] to look into a crowd and say, ‘There’s more than just me out there.’”
Walker, Zeigler, and Serrano all said that while they hoped to see PrideFest continue, spread, and blossom in the community into many more events and changes in the community, right now they were all focused on simply enjoying the first big step.
“This is all very much in its infancy,” said Serrano. “[The Diversity and Inclusion Club] just celebrated our one year anniversary in August, and this is the first pridefest we’re going to have. I think...we can cover a wide swath, whether it’s in the schools or whether it’s programming or structural things within the town in future years.”
Anyone hoping to attend PrideFest is asked to pre-register to ensure compliance with health protocols at https://airtable.com/shrxoELfdHhqRC3ks.
More information on PrideFest and the Madison Diversity and Inclusion Club, including sponsorship and donation opportunities, can be found at www.fccmadison.org/madison-diversity-inclusivity.