Pride in the Berkshires: A snapshot of our LGBTQ community

Posted

In honor of Pride Month, we've asked members of the Berkshire County LGBTQ community to share their stories in an effort to give a small snapshot of the lives of our neighbors, co-workers, family members and friends.

Name: Emma Lenski


Pronoun: She/her/hers

Age: 28

Town you live in: Pittsfield

How do you self-identify? Queer and Pansexual

What does Pride month mean to you? Pride month means celebrating who we are; being proud of our stories as individuals, in addition to our strength as a community. Pride month means standing up for what we believe in despite hate or negativity we may experience. Most of all, I think pride month means valuing and caring for each and every person, no matter their background, unconditionally.

Tell us about your first Pride festival: I skipped my homophobic older cousin's high school graduation party to attend Boston Youth Pride with my friends from the Gay-Straight Alliance in 2006. It was a rebellious move for 15-year-old me. My parents and other family members were very upset with me. Once we were there, though, I remember feeling so empowered to be surrounded by people simultaneously similar and vastly different from myself. I felt accepted for exactly the way I was by everyone I passed that day. I remember watching the parade in awe of all of the beautiful, rainbow-clad strangers, proud of their existence and showing it off to the crowds of people watching from the sidelines. Every year since, I've attended at least one pride festival.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, what are you proud of? The profound resilience of our community. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. It's humbling to think about the sacrifices our community has made to better the lives of others.

***

Name: Christopher Ferrin

Pronouns: Him/his/he

Age: 25

Town you live in: Pittsfield

How do you self-identify? Gay/Gender Fluid

What does Pride month mean to you?: Community, acceptance, change, love, equality, hope.

Tell us about your first experience at a Pride festival: Finally seeing all of the people who are either LGBTQ or an ally in one place, sharing love and support was incredible. There are times being LGBTQ you feel alone and out numbered.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, what are you proud of? I am incredibly proud of the progress in the community, and the support that you can get from one another.

***
Name: Drew Herzig

Pronouns: He/him/his

Age: 67

Town you live in: Pittsfield

How do you self-identify?: Gay

What does Pride month mean to you?: Pride Month commemorates the Stonewall riots of June 1969. This was not the first time the LGBTQ community had pushed back against oppression, but it came at a tipping point for American society, in the wake of the civil rights and women's movement struggles.

Tell us about your first experience at a Pride festival: Back in Sacramento, Calif., we had a Pride Festival on the steps of the state capitol.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, what are you proud of? I'm proud that we are learning to be more inclusive in our LGBTQIA+ community, examining and freeing ourselves from our own internalized misogyny, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, as well as addressing our racism, ableism and classism. The Liberation struggle continues.

***
Name: Alexia Rose Vriezelaar

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Age: 26

Town you live in: From Des Moines, Iowa, currently, live in Pittsfield

How do you self-identify?: Transgender female

What does pride month mean to you?
To show love and support for my fellow members of LGBTQIA+ community, to teach and educate people who don't understand us, to fight ignorance and hatred.

Tell us about your first experience at a Pride festival: I've actually never been to a pride festival. Always so busy with something.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, what are you proud of? Myself, my friends, my family, my support circle. Without them I wouldn't have anything; I wouldn't be who I am. I'm proud to be from the Midwest, to represent my state. I'm proud to represent trans people, to be their voice. I'm proud to be my mother's daughter — may her forever slumber be peaceful and painless. I'm proud of me.

***

Name: Bella Vendetta, Berkshire County resident, founder of TeamClearHeels413 a collective of current and former exotic dancers living and working in Western Massachusetts.

What does pride month mean to you? So many people forget that pride was started by trans sex workers of color. Many in the media like to erase Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson's history as sex workers. Pride started as a protest, and we still have so much more to go. While we should celebrate how far we have come, it is important to include the voices of the most marginalized within our community. Do not erase sex workers from pride — we belong here!

Tell us about your first experience at a Pride festival: My favorite pride moments are from last year, when Northampton Pride agreed to let TCH413 march in Pride. We marched for sex workers rights and we marched for the repeal of SESTA and being in a crowd of fellow queers, sex workers, allies, friends and family all screaming: "SEX WORK IS REAL WORK: REPEAL SESTA NOW" filled me with a feeling I have not been able to capture since.

***

Name: Opal

Pronouns: She/her

Age: 28

Town you live in: Pittsfield

How do you self-identify?: Transgender

What does Pride month mean to you?: Pride month to me means love. Self love, as well as spreading love to others.

Tell us about your first experience at a Pride festival: My very first Pride festival, I was 18 and fresh out of high school. My boyfriend at the time brought me to NYC Pride. While I was there, he educated me on what it truly means to be a part of the LGBTQ community and why it's so important that we continue to fight for equality. We went to Stonewall and there he educated me on the riots and what it meant for our community. To this day, I am beyond thankful for that experience because it taught me that underneath it all, we all want the same thing — LOVE.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, what are you proud of?: I am most proud of how far we've come as a community. We have opened the eyes and the hearts of many. Our stories, our struggles, and our accomplishments are all being heard. We are resilient. We are LOVE.

***
Name: Misty

Pronouns: She

Age: 32

Town you live in: Pittsfield

How do you self-identify?: Pansexual

What does Pride month mean to you?: It's about coming together to celebrate our differences. It's about speaking up and speaking out and not being afraid to be your true self. It's about loving one another and accepting each other for who we are. Pride means no matter your gender or sexual identity, we have one love for all.

Tell us about your first experience at a Pride festival: I took my daughter to Berkshire Pride when she was 3 to support my friend who was up-and-coming in the drag community. It was a great way to introduce her to what pride was and to teach her about acceptance.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, what are you proud of?: I'm proud of all the work that my drag friends put into the community: the fun, the education the love and laughter. And I'm especially proud to be a part of a community that has been blessed with Jahaira Dealto in its life. That woman is not only a voice for the people, she is smart, hard working, dedicated, passionate and hilarious.

***

Name: Kinsey Kimera

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Age: 49

Town you live in: Pittsfield

How do you self-identify?: Transgender female; Pansexual

What does Pride month mean to you?: To me, pride month is an opportunity to: Strengthen ties within the LGBT+ community; Reassure the non-LGBT community that we are just regular people, and there is nothing to fear; Offer courage and comfort to LGBT+ people who are still afraid to live openly.

Tell us about your first experience at a Pride festival: My first pride event was also the Berkshires' first pride event: The 1st Annual Berkshire Pride celebration, in 2017, on the Pittsfield Common. I was very glad to see that the people in the Berkshires were finally ready to speak openly of LGBT+. It was a small, quiet affair when compared to events in other cities, but it was so enthusiastic that I knew it would become a permanent fixture on the calendar in the Berkshires. The progress that is being made is making the entire community stronger.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, what are you proud of?: I am proud that LGBT+ acceptance and advocacy has become mainstream. In the past, straight people had to be quiet or circumspect about their support, or risk repercussions. More and more, speaking up is the norm, and the people who choose to hate or discriminate are becoming the ones that are marginalized.

***
Name: Aaron Johnson, aka Boxxa Vine

Pronouns: No preference

Age: 29

Town you live in: Monterey

How do you self-identify?: Gay

What does Pride month mean to you?: I've been a part of Berkshire Pride since the beginning, with this year being the entertainment coordinator, and pride really means bringing together people for one heck of a show each year. We get this day to truly show the talent in the Berkshires and surrounding states on stage. We have such a vast amount of drag and queer talent in this area and not enough drag or LGBTQ+ events to go around.

Tell us about your first experience at a Pride festival: My first actual pride festival was in Albany, N.Y. It was my first year starting drag (about five years ago). I got the chance to perform on their mainstage after winning the Miss Gay Capital NY and Miss Camp Capital NY and have my drag colleagues, thousands of people and my parents watch me on stage at my first ever pride. It was an amazing experience and I look forward to performing, making costumes for other performers, and helping organize as much as I can each year.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, what are you proud of?: I'm most proud of the love and support I get from my family. Not everyone gets that, and I have such amazing parents who don't just like what I do, but help at events, volunteer at Berkshire Pride every year, and actively help me pursue my drag dreams.

***

Name: Hunter Schrade

Pronouns: He/him

Age: 21

Town you live in: North Adams

How do you self-identify?: Transgender, demiboy, queer

What does Pride month mean to you?: Pride month means that I can be seen for who I am and educate the world about what it is like to be me.

Tell us about your first experience at a Pride festival: My first pride festival was when Berkshire pride had their first event and I was scared because I was all by myself and then people I knew invited me to sit with them and that made the day even better. I knew that I wasn't alone.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, what are you proud of?: I am proud of the little steps I have been able to take to be myself, and [of the] people around me, who will support me through anything.

***

Name: Mare Levine

Pronouns: She

Age: 57

Town you live in: Lanesborough

How do you self-identify?: Bi

What does Pride month mean to you?: A time to be thankful for who I am, and support and celebrate the fabulous diversity in the LGBTQ community.

Tell us about your first experience at a Pride festival: In 1997, we went to the one in Santa Monica with our kids. It was my first Pride and the first time with my new wife. The kids were just 5 and 9. Part way through the parade, they got tired marching, so the Queer Tech group we were marching with put our kids on their float. It was such a brilliant day — so positive. Our next Pride was in San Francisco.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, what are you proud of?: Bringing up kids who are inclusive, intelligent, questioning, passionate and queer-positive.

***

Name: Jan Levine

Pronouns: She

Age: Mature

Town you live in: Lanesborough

How do you self-identify?: Lesbian

What does Pride month mean to you?: I can walk around and be unapologetically who I am.

Tell us about your first experience at a Pride festival: In 1976, in Los Angeles, I attended a march. While it wasn't called "Pride" then, we filled the streets and I felt powerful.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, what are you proud of?: People standing up for themselves and being seen and heard.

***
Name: Gabby Squailia

Pronouns: She/her

Age: 39

Town you live in: Pittsfield

How do you self-identify?: Queer non-binary trans woman

What does Pride month mean to you?: Pride is a celebration of our larger community, a chance to bring our struggles and triumphs into the light, and an opportunity to throw the best parties of the year.

Tell us about your first experience at a Pride festival: I was a high school student, and one of my friends had just bought a used car. We drove up to Pride in NYC, and while I was enchanted by the energy and color of the celebration, I wasn't sure if there was a place for me there. We had so little language in those days to describe what I was or how I felt. I'm grateful that we've grown more inclusive and nuanced.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, what are you proud of?: Belonging to something larger than myself. Giving help and sharing power with my chosen family. Engaging in dialogue that feeds and strengthens. How fierce we are, how vulnerable, how rare. Collectively carving out space so that we can not only live, but thrive.

***

Name: Abby Turner

Pronouns: Her/she

Age: 66 years old

Town you live in: Richmond

How do you self-identify?: I am a cisgender lesbian.

What does Pride month mean to you?: Pride is my favorite holiday of the year. It is hard to count yourself as equal when all year you are excluded from images of people like yourself in the media, books, plays, design, politics, etc. Pride is a time when we can see ourselves and others like us and be glad for our contributions.

Tell us about your first experience at a Pride festival: I was terrified and excited. I was marching down Fifth Avenue in New York with Metropolitan Community Church. I was elated knowing that the cheering was for me.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, what are you proud of?: I am proud that older LGBTQAI+ people are supporting Queer youth as they come out. I am particularly proud of those who are out here in the country where it is harder. Go into the city at the end of the month for Pride weekend. You cannot be too proud of being LGBTQAI+.

***

Name: Evan Lurie

Pronouns: He

Age: 64

Town you live in: Lanesborough

How do you self-identify? Gay

What does Pride month mean to you?: The changes I've seen in my lifetime are astonishing. I can marry the person of my choosing, hold my lover's hand, live my life. I applaud Pride month as a celebration of the courage of the people who first fought for my right to do these things. But the corporate co-opting of what continues to be a life and death struggle saddens me. Anti-gay laws and stigma still abound. That an ice cream company tries to get my dollar by espousing that "Love comes in 37 flavors" doesn't prevent the murder and destruction of countless lives every year.

("In the future, the junior executive will smell with rapture the scent of his partner's aftershave. And even the Pope will find nothing wrong with it." - Guy Hocquenghem)

Tell us about your first experience at a Pride festival: I was visiting New York when I was 17, so it was 1971. I took a walk down 57th Street and ran into perhaps the second Pride march. (Although I knew my orientation, and had had anonymous sex with other men in cars or woods, I wasn't "out." Before readers think this sordid, they should think about the penalties openness would have incurred.) There were, I have no idea how many, men and woman, marching up 5th Avenue, openly expressing the truth of their lives. Exposing themselves to arrest, violence, loss of employment and estrangement from friends or family. I stood with one foot on the pavement and one foot in the air, one step over a chasm that felt larger than Neil Armstrong's. At that moment, I didn't have the courage. I remained on the sidewalk, still hiding, afraid to expose the man I am.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, what are you proud of?: When the question is turned around, "As a member of the straight community, what are you proud of?" Doesn't it sound silly?

***
Name: Kelan O'Brien

Pronouns: He/him/his

Age: 24

Town you live in: Pittsfield

How do you self-identify?: Gay, cisgender man

What does Pride month mean to you?: Pride month is for two things: 1.) Remembering where we came from, what has been accomplished so far, and planning for what still needs to get done and 2.) celebrating each other and how something that makes us "different" than what has been the social norm for so long actually brings us all together. It's true that Pride comes from a need to resist and stand up for equality and that it's important, especially this year, to remember those that triggered a wave of change at Stonewall in 1969. However, Pride month is also a time that many people across all ages will be exposed to the community for the first time, whether through a local festival or through a brand launching a Pride collection. It's a time where all people who are looking for equality can come together without question. This includes not only those in the community that are out and proud, but those that are in closet, those that are curious, and those that are allies in the fight for rights. For me, it's a no-questions-asked time. Come out, celebrate, and let's take some time to enjoy ourselves as a community.

Tell us about your first experience at a Pride festival: I have never been to a Pride festival before. This year will be my first Berkshire Pride and my first NYC Pride! Coming out is a different experience for everyone. Before I came out, I didn't want to be associated with anything "gay," due to fear that people would make more assumptions than they had already made. When I did come out, I remember thinking, "I don't want to be one of those people waving a flag." What I didn't know at the time was that that was internalized homophobia that I had been conditioned to have from society. I was gay, but I wasn't "one of those gays;" I wasn't "rubbing it in your face." However, when I became less afraid of engaging with the LGBTQ+ community and began learning more about the history of the fight for equal rights (which is not taught in schools), I realized that my conditioned thinking was just as toxic and dangerous as those that wouldn't bake a cake for a gay couple getting married. A coming out journey never really ends; I am still on mine and there will be many more people that I will have to "come out" to in my life, but I am excited to spend a day celebrating how our differences actually bring us together and connect us, and to just enjoy a couple hours with my brothers, sisters and friends!

As a member of the LGBTQ community, what are you proud of?: I am proud of the fact that right now, there's a Pride month display at my old high school, Pittsfield High. I am proud of the fact that more and more we see same-sex or non-binary couples attending their high school proms together. I am proud of the fact that over the last three years, I have gradually seen more rainbow flags around Pittsfield and the Berkshires in the month of June. Though it's important for companies, businesses and organizations to remember that the LGBTQ+ community is a part of the Berkshires all year round, for me, it's nice to see that people are actually taking a stand and saying, "This business supports equality."




TALK TO US

If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.



Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions