Pittsfield event a source of emotion — and Pride

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PITTSFIELD — Glitter, bodysuits and camaraderie — the Pittsfield Common was a haven of acceptance during the Berkshire Pride Festival on Saturday.

Rainbow balloons and boas floated through the crowd of festivalgoers who gathered to watch drag performers and celebrate inclusion.

"My eyes are wet here," said Jessica Shaw, choking up. "To see this gathering of people is just a really great thing for me."

It was the first Pride event that Shaw and her 14-year-old daughter Ariana, attended.

The two recently moved to Stockbridge from Pittsfield when Shaw, a recent graduate who majored in social work, got a new job working with autistic youths.

"I always like to make sure she's open to everyone," Shaw said, gesturing to her daughter.

"I'm going to say this for the first time in front of her — I identify as pan[sexual]," Shaw said.

"I knew it, her daughter replied.

For many parents, the festival was an opportunity to show support for their LGBTQ children.

Sharon Ernest, of North Adams, stood with her 17-year-old son, Asriel, while drag performer Gemini DaBarbay dominated the bandstand.

"I have a son that's gay and another who is trans," Ernest said. "Considering I'm bisexual, it didn't bother me."

Ernest said that when she was in high school, it wasn't as easy to be open about one's sexuality.

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"That was 30-something years ago," she said. "Now, it is so much easier. I hope it stays that way."

Some teens feel as if there is still a tendency for LGBTQ youths to keep their orientation suppressed in some environments, according to one group of Pittsfield High School students.

"I think it's accepted, it's just not talked about," 15-year-old Emma Kostyun said of being part of the LGBTQ community.

When there was a class at school addressing the transitioning of genders, only one transgender student attended, Kostyun said while waiting in line for lunch.

"We know there is more than that person [who could benefit], they're just afraid to talk about it," she said.

Kostyun's friend, Leila Paredes, who identifies as a "straight ally," said that she is happy that she could be at the festival to show support.

"It's a chance for us to connect with our community and with ourselves," she said. "I'm happy that this event is happening and we're able to be here."

This year's Pride event falls on the 50th-anniversary year of the Stonewall riots, a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay community against a police raid in June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York.

Speaking from the bandstand Saturday, Ed Sedarbaum, a 73-year-old community organizer, said that he was six months into a marriage to a woman during the Stonewall riots and hadn't yet taken part in LGBTQ activism. When he came out as gay 10 years later, though, he began to study the history of gay rights and learned that it's history dates to the years after World War I, when gay bars, nightclubs and theaters began to pop up.

About the same time, the Institute of Sex Research opened in Germany and scientists began to study early gender reassignment surgeries, he said.

Members of the LGBTQ community began to feel like there was hope, and that progress was brewing, but it didn't take long until a Nazi youth group burned the institute's library to the ground and halted an early gay rights movement, he said. Gays were once again forced into hiding and persecuted for their orientation, he said.

"That history is my inspiration," Sedarbaum said. "I say, keep your eyes open. Celebrate, but don't stop protesting, because it can happen here."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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