Fifty years after Stonewall riots, a time for Pride in Franklin County

  • Rainbow Elders, from left, Elizabeth Wintheiser, Martin Swinger, J.R. Raphael and Donna Liebl speak at the third annual Franklin County Pride parade and rally about their experiences as members of the LGBT community. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID MCLELLAN

  • Dave Gott, left, and Martin Swinger speak and sing about their experiences as gay men to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID MCLELLAN

  • Local drag queen Vivian Baits reads to children during the third annual Franklin County Pride parade and rally. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID MCLELLAN

  • Saturday was the third annual Franklin County Pride parade and rally, which also memorialized the Stonewall riots 50 years ago. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID MCLELLAN

  • Saturday was the third annual Franklin County Pride parade and festival, which also memorialized the Stonewall riots 50 years ago. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID MCLELLAN

  • The drummers of Puertominicana were two of the many performers at the third annual Franklin County Pride parade and rally Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID MCLELLAN

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, speaks at the Franklin County Pride parade and rally about the impact of political activism within the LGBT community, a community of which she is a member. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID MCLELLAN

Staff Writer
Published: 6/16/2019 10:12:17 PM

GREENFIELD — It was 50 years ago this month that members of the gay community in New York City fought back against injustice. A police raid, June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village led to large protests and demonstrations of physical force — the Stonewall riots became the spark for the gay liberation movement.

Marking that point in history was this year’s Franklin County Pride parade and rally. In its third year, the parade down Federal and Main Streets and rally at Energy Park drew hundreds of people who expressed pride in their identities and memorialized the Stonewall riots.

“Before Stonewall I was a searching youth, sometimes found and sometimes lost,” said Dave Gott, remembering the riots and how they aided him in accepting his own sexuality as a gay man.

“A revolution of the heart had been born in me, and it still flourishes,” Gott said.

Rainbow-colored outfits and signs were ubiquitous, and the hundreds who took part in the parade gathered at Energy Park to show their pride.

“Still lesbian after all these years,” read one sign. Another: “Never forget Stonewall ‘69.”

Guest speakers, musicians, dancers, vendors and more than 50 local organizations attended the event, which, according to board president of Franklin County Pride Jamie Pottern, started three years ago as a much smaller event where paraders marched down the sidewalks. The event is volunteer-driven, Pottern said.

Pottern took the stage to talk about the community’s past, as well as its future.

“The Stonewall riots are considered to be the watershed moment in the gay liberation movement,” Pottern said. “We have come so far in 50 years. We have won the right to marry whomever we love, we have gained more protections for LGBTQ people in the workplace, medical advances have halted the tide of the AIDS epidemic, which took so many so many of our loved ones from us.”

“But don’t be fooled by any illusion that our work here is done,” Pottern said — adding that LGBT people must continue to “put your bodies on the line,” like those at the Stonewall riots did in 1969, to fight discrimination and violence.

The rally was set up across Energy Park like a fair with a stage for musical performers, such as the women drummers of Puertominicana, and tents for activities, such as a “Drag Queen Storytime” with Vivian Baits, and various organizations, such as Rainbow Elders, a group that offers support and resources to elderly LGBT people.

Several of the Rainbow Elders spoke about their experiences over the last half century, including Elizabeth Wintheiser, a transgender woman who recalled chaperoning a high school theater trip to New York City after the Stonewall riots, and was impassioned to see statues had been erected at the site of the riots of people just like her.

“This was where trans women, who I didn’t know, saved my life,” Wintheiser said.

Donna Liebl remembered hearing live news reports about the Stonewall riots during her early 20s.

“I was filled with joy, but I also had a lot of concern,” Liebl said. “I listened with amazement as more people joined in, transgender people, dykes on bikes, gay men — I was transfixed by people’s conviction and their bravery. When straight New Yorkers jumped in to assist, I knew something profound had changed and nothing would ever be the same again.”

“I realized my life as a young bisexual person could be lived with less fear, and more pride,” Liebl added.

J.R. Raphael was a 26-year-old fourth-grade teacher in 1969. She remembered her colleague, a gay man, telling her, “We are free,” the day after the riots. Around that time she was coming to terms with her own sexuality as a lesbian.

In 1993, Raphael was at the 25th anniversary of the riots in New York, where she bought a T-shirt commemorating the seminal event. She wore that shirt on Saturday, and said, “It’s full of holes now but I’m still very proud to be able to wear it here.”

Gott and another Rainbow Elder, Martin Swinger, sang together, inviting the ralliers to join. “All we need is a safe place, to learn, to grow, to love, to know,” they sang.

State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, marched at the event. Wearing a rainbow pin and headband, she spoke about the importance of political activism within the LGBT community, a community of which she herself is a member.

“I was so proud to walk today,” Comerford said. “I bring greetings from my wife and my children, and I am happy to be here not only as your representative, but of you, for you, with you in our struggle for civil and human rights.”

Comerford said that the political activism is not in vain, referencing recent legislation in Massachusetts that banned “conversion therapy” intended to psychologically change the way young gay people feel about their sexuality.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, also attended the event, and said he was “proud to to represent a district where people believe everyone is special and everyone is wonderful.”

“It’s great to get out of Washington, where there is so much hate, and come to Greenfield, where there is so much love,” McGovern said.

Sponsors for the event included Greenfield Savings Bank; Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center; Hilltown Tents; The River; WHAI; Community Action Pioneer Valley; Kate Hunter Art; the Baystate Franklin Chapter of the Massachusetts Nurses Association; Breuer’s Heirloom Furniture; Coldwell Banker; CopyCat; Eddie’s Wheels; Green Fields Market; Stone Soup Cafe and the Markens Group.

The Franklin County Pride parade and rally was the biggest of several pride events throughout Greenfield over the weekend. Prior to the parade and rally was a “Drag Brunch” at Hawks and Reed, which that evening hosted “Saturday Night Standup: A Queer Showcase” comedy show.

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.




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