Over the past few years, Amaad Rivera says, Springfield has gotten a reputation as an unfriendly, even unsafe place, for gay and transgender people. There was the 2009 death of Carl Hoover-Walker, the 11-year-old boy who committed suicide after enduring relentless bullying from classmates who perceived him to be gay; the assault, last summer, of a city man by a group of teens who used homophobic slurs as they robbed and beat him; the arrival of Scott Lively, the virulently anti-gay evangelical minister who in 2010 set up a coffee house in the city.
“Springfield has been building a reputation of homophobia, quite substantially, over the last couple of years,” said Rivera, a community activist and former Ward 6 city councilor. That’s a reputation he wants to change, in part through the upcoming Springfield Pride Week.
This will be the second year of the newly revived Springfield Pride. While the city had held pride events in the past, it had been dormant for a number of years until last year, when Rivera and other organizers pulled together the event in just a few months—and pulled it off despite the freak tornado that hit the city just days before Pride week began.
Pride Week 2012 will kick off with a City Hall flag-raising on May 31, where Mayor Domenic Sarno will speak, and will run for eight days (“a queer week,” joked Holly Richardson, a Pride Committee member and director of the youth group Out Now). Events will be held throughout the city, and most are free, said Richardson, noting that the committee wanted to make Pride accessible to as many people as possible.
This year’s schedule includes a June 5 screening of the movie Pariah, about a lesbian African-American girl and her family, and a June 4 open-mic night at the Renaissance Art Space. On June 6, there will be an LGBT town hall meeting at Springfield Technical Community College on what Rivera called “being ‘gay and’—[gay] and people of color, gay and poor, gay and Republican. … How do we deal with having multiple identities?”
The week also includes a June 2 party at Kush and a youth party on June 7; a brunch at Pure Night Club on June 3; and a drag competition (described as a “low-budget ‘Ru Paul’s Drag Race’”) on June 1. (For a complete calendar, go to www.springfieldmasspride.org.)
Rivera described the Springfield Pride committee and its supporters as an organically diverse group, mirroring the diversity of Springfield itself. Going forward, he hopes to see more people and institutions in the city lend their support to the effort.
“There’s a need for visibility,” Rivera said. “When a community is invisible, the issues that end up affecting them are often neglected”—in the case of LGBT people, everything from workplace equity to full equal rights for same-sex married couples. “That’s the hope of Pride: to really ensure that the LGBT community, which has always been a part of the fabric of the city, is more visible,” he said.