PITTSFIELD — While the cancellation of this year's Berkshire Pride Festival means the absence of the bright-colored balloons and 500-plus attendees that a typical year brings, event organizers say pride itself remains alive and well.
"Pride is not a singular moment on a Saturday in June," said Kelan O'Brien, who chairs the festival held annually since 2017. "That's a time that we come together to affirm one another, but pride, equity and inclusion are really things that should be ingrained in our everyday lives every day of every month of every year. We are hopeful that, this year, that message rings clearer and is put into practice more diligently."
Berkshire Pride, an event committee operating under the Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition, initially had postponed the June 20 festival to October because of COVID-19 safety concerns. Organizers weighed a virtual festival as well, but recognizing the inequities of access, they opted this month to cancel the event outright.
"We were also mindful of the fact that not everyone in the local LGBTQ+ and queer community has access to reliable internet, to high-speed broadband; not everyone has access to technology," O'Brien said. "We didn't want to do anything that was inaccessible to a group of people."
Boxxa Vine, a Monterey-based drag queen, regularly performs at the festival, and she would have been the entertainment coordinator for a festival this year. Now, Berkshire Pride is supporting Boxxa's Thursday drag shows at Dewey Hall in Sheffield, the last of which will be Sept. 24.
She also has designed and made pride masks, with themes including "cats," "field," "galaxy" and "rainbow." The masks sell for $10, and $5 from each sale goes to the Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition and ROOTS Teen Center.
"That one we're finishing up pretty soon because we're almost out of the masks," Boxxa said.
Berkshire Pride still plans to give out its fourth Community Change Maker Award, and it is fielding nominations from the community for the first time. In advance of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, it also is collecting community members' coming-out stories to share on its social media.
In addition, the committee is continuing to work with its community partners on equity-related social issues. It participated in the Elizabeth Freeman Center's Walk a Virtual Mile, an event that raises money and awareness to combat rape, sexual assault and gender violence. And it is "100 percent, absolutely, standing in solidarity with the Berkshire branch of the NAACP in affirming that Black lives matter and Black trans lives matter," O'Brien said.
Black trans people continue to suffer from high rates of violence nationwide, O'Brien noted.
Locally, it more often are subtle "microaggressions" that can make LGBTQ people feel less accepted.
"Here in Berkshire County, we live in this progressive state; it's always Democratic. I think it's very easy to get lost in these sort of veiled progress points," O'Brien said.
"A lot of people think about that Supreme Court case [affirming the legality of same-sex marriage across the country] as: 'We are post-discriminatory, we are post-homophobia, we are post-transphobia, that we are beyond that.' And that's just not the case."
Even seemingly trivial adjustments, like listing one's preferred gender pronouns on a Zoom meeting, O'Brien said, can send a welcoming message.
"It shows that you are making an effort to be inclusive," O'Brien said. "It shows that people who use different pronouns, this is a space where they can be their true selves."
Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle's Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.