Gays And Lesbians In Hartford Celebrate Strides Their Community Has Made In The 25 Years Since The Connecticut Pride Festival Began
September 10, 2006
By RACHANA RATHI, Courant Staff Writer
Fifteen years ago, Morgan Michaels and the three other founding members of the Hartford Harlettes had a plan of attack for the press.
Potbellied gay men in cheerleading sweaters and skirts whose families had yet to learn of their sexual orientation, Trixie, Buffy, Bunny and Rosebud were to fall flat on the floor if a cameraman approached while they performed.
On Saturday, photographers snapped away as Michaels and the Harlettes shook their pompoms on the main stage of the 25th annual Connecticut Pride Festival in downtown Hartford.
"We were looking for acceptance back then," said Michaels, 45, just after the Harlettes' performance Saturday afternoon. "Today, we feel inclusion. We appreciate how Connecticut has accepted the gay community as part of it, not as a subset."
For Michaels, and many other people who have been part of Connecticut's gay and lesbian movement for years, the festival was about celebrating the strides the community has made in the past quarter century. While issues such as gay marriage, homophobia and hate crimes still exist, the state has passed laws protecting against hate crimes and discrimination based on sexual orientation and allowing civil unions.
For others at the festival, many of them newcomers, the event was a safe haven - a place they could be themselves freely and completely.
Celebrating its 25th year, this weekend's festival was larger than any before it. The festival moved from Bushnell Park to Main Street, which was blocked off between Capitol Avenue and Pearl Street; the entertainment budget was raised from $4,000 last year to $80,000 this year; the number of vendor booths rose from 22 last year to 150 Saturday; and attendance grew from 7,000 last year to nearly 20,000 this year.
In addition, major corporations such as Bank of America, Absolut Vodka and St. Paul Travelers donated money for the event. Churches, political campaigns, colleges and insurance, real estate and law firms filled the booths. And the festival expanded to include a Friday night dance at city hall, which event coordinator Kate Houlihan said more than 500 attended, and a youth dance Saturday night.
Festivalgoers said the changes were noticeable and welcome.
"It's like a block party. Instead of being secluded in Bushnell Park, it seems like we are really supported by the city," said Newington resident Rebecca Nesbitt, 25. Nesbitt said it was her eighth year participating in the festival. "It's much more visible."
The event attracted a racially diverse crowd, members of the surrounding neighborhood and people not regularly associated with the gay and lesbian community, organizers and festivalgoers said.
Even passersby joined the festivities. New Britain resident Kevin Lee was driving to the riverfront with a friend and her children when they noticed the festival. They stopped off to walk around, eat and enjoy the entertainment, which included talent such as Bonnie Pointer, Kevin Aviance, Gioia, Evelyn "Champagne" King, Karen Frisk, Sister Funk, Shannon, Pepper Mashay and the Dramatix Showband.
The youth presence was more visible also, said attendees. Some youngsters came for support. Others came to support family members and parents, such as Ana and Nakita Iacoboni.
The Manchester girls came to support their father and said they "loved it."
"It's a different world," said Nakita, 17. "You can just be whoever you are and no one cares here because they are all different. Usually people are afraid of people like this. But people don't judge here."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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