As a Pride flag unfurled over Pittsfield City Hall on Wednesday, it was a bittersweet moment.
It’s Pride Month, and after skipping last year’s festivities because of the coronavirus, this June renews the chance to join together and celebrate inclusiveness and unity in pursuit of equality for all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
It also marked the first Pride Month since the loss of transgender activist and Berkshire Pride co-founder Jahaira DeAlto, who was killed in her Boston apartment earlier this year. Though Ms. DeAlto’s life was tragically extinguished, her legacy illuminated Wednesday’s ceremony.
When faced with adversity and oppression, she fought back against it — and helped others fight back, too. Ms. DeAlto first moved to Pittsfield out of necessity, winding up at the Elizabeth Freeman Center’s emergency shelter after fleeing an abusive relationship. But the Berkshires truly became a home to her after someone reached out to her when she needed it most. While establishing a new life in the Berkshires, she met an administrative assistant at Berkshire Community College who convinced Ms. DeAlto that she could succeed in college — and she did, graduating from BCC in 2019. Later, Ms. DeAlto remarked that “What I can do is pay this forward. What I can do is be for somebody else what she’s been for me.”
She never stopped paying it forward. In addition to co-founding Berkshire Pride, she also helped launch the first Transgender Day of Remembrance in the Berkshires, becoming a fierce advocate for the area’s LGBTQ community. After receiving help from the Elizabeth Freeman Center, she chose to be there for others who needed similar assistance, working at the center for two years. After graduating from BCC with the help of a scholarship for students who have faced and overcome life obstacles, she advocated for the state’s Credit for Prior Learning, which lets community college students complete a portfolio about their lived experiences to gain academic credit.
In other words, Jahaira DeAlto’s legacy embodies Pride: an unflinching resilience in the righteous demand for equality, dignity and validity not just for oneself but for all people, especially the vulnerable, the oppressed and the overlooked. For many Pride Month is not the same without Ms. DeAlto, but Berkshire Pride would have never been what it is today without her in the first place — a gift of advocacy that keeps on giving to the local LGBTQ community to which she dedicated much of her activism.
At Wednesday’s event, Berkshire Pride Chair Kelan O’Brien called on others to celebrate Pride by following Ms. DeAlto’s example. “As we imagine a future where everyone has the tools and resources that they need to live a full and thriving life, Jahaira would want each of us to think about what we are doing to advocate and act for a safer and more equitable future. How do we show up? And who do we show up for? Where are we dedicating our resources?”
Berkshire Pride plans to hold a June 26 rally in downtown Pittsfield, and is also eyeing a possible festival later this summer, a welcome return after COVID put a pause on the annual activities last year. It’s a cause for celebration, and a good time to reflect on how we can live up to the legacy that Jahaira DeAlto left for her Berkshire community: stand against bigotry, stand fast for equality and stand up for our neighbors. Happy Pride Month.