Keene Pride festival set for June 19

Participants in the first Keene Pride Parade drive through town in June 2020. (News photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

KEENE — The Keene Pride Parade is returning for a second year.

No longer restricted by state rules on mass-gatherings, the annual parade — one of the only townwide LGBTQ-plus Pride celebrations hosted in the Adirondacks — is expanding this year.

After this year’s parade, there will be a celebration at Marcy Field with live music, food and refreshments starting at 12:30 p.m. and ending at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 19, according to Keene Valley resident Robbi Mecus, who is the lead organizer for Keene’s Pride event.

The parade route will be the same. Organizers plan to line up cars at Keene Central School at 11 a.m. The parade will leave the school at noon, travel down Market Street and turn onto state Route 73. Then it will travel from Keene Valley to Keene, turn around on Church Street and proceed back to Marcy Field.

At Marcy Field, there will be a DJ and a reggae performance. Old Mountain Coffee will be there with a coffee cart; Baxter Mountain Tavern will be donating baked goods; and there are a number of locals who will be making things to give away.

Keene’s first Pride parade last year was organized by a group of residents, members of the Keene Valley Congregational Church and staff at the Keene Valley Library last year. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, roughly 100 people participated in the parade, a comparatively large number for a town with a population of just over 1,000 residents.

One of the event’s organizers, Jennifer Hoffman, said last year that part of the inspiration behind the event was the cancellation of Pride parades in larger cities because of the pandemic.

This year, many Pride events in larger cities are still being held remotely.

“While many other places have made the difficult, though understandable, decision to keep their PRIDE celebrations virtual, our community has made it possible to celebrate safely in person,” Keene resident Kathy Woughter said. Woughter is helping out with this year’s event.

“This will be a terrific community builder and welcoming event for all,” she said.

Anyone interested in donating refreshments or running a bake sale can contact Woughter at kwoughter@gmail.com. Anyone interested in volunteering for the event can contact Keene Central School student and Keene Diversity Advisory Committee member Anya Kaz at anyakaz13@gmail.com.

“Everyone is completely valid”

Kaz, a 10th grader at KCS, said she wasn’t able to attend last year’s Pride parade. After seeing photos and talking with friends about it, she was excited to learn that it was coming back this year and asked Mecus to be a part of the planning.

“Pride is something that is important to celebrate to show that everyone is completely valid,” Kaz said. “It shows that no matter who you love, how you identify, or anything else that you are accepted. June is a month that shows everyone that it is completely OK to just be yourself. It feels good to know I’m growing up in a town where so many people are supportive and accepting. It’s very exciting and good to hear how many people want to celebrate Pride or help out with the event in some way.”

Mecus helped organize last year’s parade, but she wasn’t able to attend. She is a state Department of Environmental Conservation forest ranger and was called out for a rescue about an hour before the parade.

To Mecus, Keene’s Pride event is meaningful for a number of reasons.

“To me personally, I came out as trans in this town five years ago,” she said. “I was really well-supported in town. It means a lot to me to show that pride, not just in being trans but being in such a loving, accepting community.”

Mecus said she’s proud of her little town.

Pride history

Keene’s Pride Parade, hosted in the middle of Pride Month, comes a few days ahead of the 52nd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which were considered to be a major catalyst for the modern Gay Rights Movement.

On the night the Stonewall Riots began — June 28, 1969 — LGBT-plus patrons of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City, fought police as they raided the popular gay club.

At that time, gay clubs were illegal. “Homosexual acts” and gender non-conformity, in general, were either criminalized or harshly stigmatized in every state across the country. New York police raided gay clubs often — officers would seize all of the alcohol in a club, line up everyone in the club and “verify” patrons’ gender presentation against the sex listed on their IDs. Anyone who was wearing clothes that didn’t adhere to their gender assigned at birth was arrested, according to “Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution,” by David Carter.

On the night the riots started, many people at the Stonewall Inn refused to hand over their IDs to the police. When the police began releasing people — or forcing them out of the club — many people stayed outside and a crowd gathered, according to Carter.

The tension between the crowd and the police escalated and a riot broke out. Riots continued over the next few days.

Though the Stonewall Riots were covered by the Associated Press, a wire service available to most news outlets, the riots went largely unreported by newspapers in the Adirondacks and New York television stations. Before the riots, news coverage of the LGBT-plus community was either nonexistent or consisted of police blotter items detailing arrests, according to the Associated Press.

The riots sparked the creation of the Gay Liberation Front, and later the Gay Activists Alliance, both influential activist groups. Within two years, gay rights activist groups were established in most major American cities, according to “The Rise of a Gay and Lesbian Movement” by Barry Adam.

NYC Pride March, one of the largest Pride parades in the world, was originally called the “Christopher Street Liberation Day” and honored the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.