Over 1,500 gather for inaugural Port Washington Pride walk

Rose Weldon
Over 1,500 people are estimated to have attended the inaugural Port Washington Pride Walk from Bay Walk Park to Sunset Park on June 12, held by local nonprofit Be the Rainbow. (Photo by Rose Weldon)

Locals, elected officials and members of the Port Washington community assembled Saturday for the area’s first annual Pride Walk in recognition of LGBTQIA Pride Month, which was organized by Be the Rainbow.

Marshalled by Port residents Lauren Sheen, Meghan Burnett, and congressional candidate Melanie D’Arrigo, the three founders of Be the Rainbow, the organization later estimated in an Instagram post that over 1,500 people had attended the event.

As residents gathered, sporting rainbow flags, clothes, and in some cases face paint, Burnett told them through a megaphone that the organization had so far arranged for rainbow flags to be placed throughout Main Street for the first time. The founders had also sold flags and lawn signs voicing support for the LGBTQIA community and raising money for the Gay-Straight Alliance organizations at Schreiber High School and Weber Middle School.

“It’s overwhelming to see all of you here today,” Burnett said. “The amount of support we have received from the Port community over the past few months has been so inspiring, and we thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.”

The walk kicked off shortly after 1 p.m. at Bay Walk Park, where Village of Port Washington North Mayor Robert Weitzner addressed those gathered.

*****”This is a lot of pressure for the village of Port North,” Weitzner said. “Most importantly, I had to remember to wear my pride socks,” he added, lifting an ankle to show rainbow socks, which prompted applause. “Without further ado, I think we should get the walk off onto the man GARBLE shall I thank you all for coming.”

In addition to Weitzner, numerous local officials were among the many participants, including state Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti (D-Manorhaven), state Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills), County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove), Town of North Hempstead Clerk Wayne Wink, and Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte (D-Port Washington). Contingents from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset, St. Stephen’s Church in Port, and advocacy group Moms Demand Action also represented their organizations at the walk.

After trekking just over half a mile to Sunset Park, attendees treated themselves to face painting, Ralph’s Italian ices, and a photo booth. Others laid out blankets at the John Philip Sousa Band Shell for performances from students at Bach to Rock, with the bands Vibe, the Diffusers and Ruckus performing music from Muse, Skid Row, Oasis, Blondie, Houndmouth, and Stevie Wonder.

A series of speakers at the band shell began with D’Arrigo, representing allies of the LGBTQIA community, reminding the audience that the origins of Pride Month dated back to the Stonewall riot of 1969 in New York City.

“The fact that we are here today is evidence that active resistance works and that every action we take will determine our progress,” D’Arrigo said. “While we still have a long way to go, one thing I know for sure is that all change is local. So when Lauren Sheen came to me with the idea of a pride celebration, I knew immediately that bringing people together in shared unity and solidarity would have a profound effect on our community.

“I thought of so many of my LGBTQ friends who have struggled, and how we could change that right here in this town. We could change it by showing the next generation how to destigmatize outdated notions of identity and sexuality by challenging our own notion of what is normal, and treating people with kindness and dignity, because everyone should be able to love who they love, and be who they are.”

Port’s Christopher Williams, secretary of Schreiber High’s Gay-Straight Alliance, then spoke, highlighting the necessity of such an organization.

“Throughout my experience at Schreiber, I’ve witnessed several offensive  actions against the LGBTQIA community and phrases such as ‘that so gay’ in the lexicon heard throughout the building on the daily,” Williams said. “After these events, I joined the GSA, a safe space for everyone to come together and not only talk and share their feelings, but create solutions for these problems. We believe that when individuals are better educated about the LGBT community, they will do less again to make these insensitive remarks.”

Jules Krainin, a recent graduate of Schreiber, discussed her experiences as a member of the transgender community in her remarks.

“It wasn’t an easy journey to get to where I am now, but despite all my obstacles I’m proud of who I am, and I know that I’m enough,” Krainin said, to applause from the audience. “I’ve had a few bumps in the road, like a transphobic professor who in my first semester of college refused to call me by my name, but it didn’t matter, because I’ve been surrounded by supportive friends and parents and for the first time in my life I actually feel happy.

“To any transgender people in the audience, you are beautiful and you deserve love, ” she said. “To all the cisgender people in the audience, tell your trans friends that they’re enough because they can uplift their voices and be a good ally, if they say something is transphobic or you did something that made them uncomfortable. Don’t tell them that they’re being overdramatic or that they’re wrong. Listen to them.”

A young speaker identified as Emma of Manhasset then briefly gave an address, telling the audience about her life being raised by two fathers.

******”When I was younger, I didn’t realize that there are people who found it weird or unusual to have same sex parents,” Emma said. “The first question I got when someone learned I had two dads would always be something along the lines of, ‘How were you born?’ I explained to them that my parents wanted children so they wrote a letter to the stork requesting ‘child.’ The person asking questions would either leave at that or continue to question my life, saying things like ‘Your sisters aren’t real sisters’ or your dad’s over okay. I would ignore them and move on. I always thought it was wrong for people to judge others for loving who they love. ‘It’s not right,’ I would think. People should love who they love, regardless of gender.”

Shortly thereafter, the main event took place, with all-woman rock band Antigone Rising taking the band shell’s stage to play a few of their songs. The New York City-based group also served as founders of Girls Rising, a nonprofit designed to encourage girls and LGBTQ students to pursue careers in STEAM fields. Midway through their set, the band invited Penelope Neophytou of Glen Cove, who had participated in their program at her elementary school, to join them onstage for the song “Game Changer,” and presented her with a Les Paul guitar for her future musical pursuits.

The band’s drummer Kristen Ellis-Henderson also invited her wife Sarah Kate Ellis, the CEO and president of GLAAD, to give remarks. Ellis noted that the day marked five years since the Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida, and asked community members to remember the lives lost and fight anti-LGBTQIA legislation.

“On my way here I was thinking, it’s the small town marches that move the needle,” Ellis said. “It’s where we live, where we work, where we raise our families that we need to be recognized as whole people. It’s our neighborhoods who are pushing that forward, because by being out and proud, you’re representing your community, you’re being visible and you’re moving the needle on acceptance and equality. So thank you all for being here today for walking and participating and Happy Pride.”

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Rose Weldon

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