Gay pride: For the 29th time, gay rights march hits Northampton streets Saturday

29 Apr 2010 7:31 AM | Anonymous

Photo: Gay Pride
Mount Holyoke students walks with the western Massachusetts chapter of COLAGE, a national organization of children, youth and adults with one or more LGBTQ parents at the pride march last year.

NORTHAMPTON - The role of the annual gay pride parade in Northampton has changed over the years, becoming as much a celebration as it is a political action.

This year's event - the 29th Northampton march and rally - set for Saturday, boasts 60 contingents featuring dogs, bands and ponies, as well as a synchronized routine with shopping carts. The march steps off at noon from Lampron Park, heading downtown, turning down Crafts Avenue at City Hall to end in the parking lot behind Thornes Marketplace for a rally featuring music, speakers, and dancing.

About 10,000 people annually attend the parade and related events, organizers said.

Revived this year is an event Friday night leading into Saturday's pride festivities, a "Dyke March" beginning with a rally at 6 p.m. at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence at 221 Main St., and then proceeding to "The Dyke Dance: For Dykes and the People that Love Them" at Union Station from 7:30 p.m. to midnight. Performers will include musicians June Millington, Jesse Molina and The Ellingtones.

"I think the role of the parade in Massachusetts has changed," said Bear White, director of Noho Pride, the organization behind the march this year.

"The parade has turned into more of a parade than a march here because we are so lucky, we are able to be more of who we are in the Valley," White said.

But behind the balloons, posters, and floats there is still political motivation for the demonstration, said White.

"We do continue to fight for our rights, for the rights of the LGBT community," White said. "Acceptance is very high here, but I can't say it's 100 percent."

Although there have been some recent victories for gay rights, including a federal mandate to extend visitation and medical decision-making rights to same-sex couples and the legalization of same-sex marriage in five states including Massachusetts, Iowa and Vermont, inequality for gay people persists.

Not all states allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, for example, and the federal government does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual ,transgender, and queer) rights organization.

The first gay pride parades were held in 1970 to commemorate the Stonewall Riot in New York City, which went on to spark the gay rights movement. Pride parades are now held annually in many major metropolitan centers.

Northampton's parade, however, is likely the only one that will feature shopping cart choreography.

About a dozen members of the River Valley Market, a 2-year-old North King Street food co-op, have been practicing their shopping cart handling skills in the store's parking lot every Saturday morning since March. Their synchronized moves will fit with marching band tunes, said Rochelle Prunty, the market's general manager.

"Do you know what a precision drill team concept is?" Prunty asked when queried about what exactly shopping cart choreography is. "Think of that, but not professionally and with shopping carts."

Prunty said River Valley Market members decided to dress up their carts and join the parade because of their commitment to diversity in food as well as the community.

"It's a major community event and we're a community organization," Prunty said. "It seemed like the right thing to be a part of. We're definitely committed to diversity at all levels."

In addition to the parade, events celebrating gay pride Saturday include a drag performance by Georgia Star Michaels as well as musical appearances by Kristen Gass, LezleeAnne, Kelly King, Jason Antone and Stewart Lewis. A spoken word performance by Ayisha Knight-Shaw, who is deaf, is scheduled for 3:55 p.m. and the evening will be capped with a dance and "Queerioke" contest. The day's emcees are Latin Heat, Lorelei Erisis and Tammy Two-Tone. Speakers will include Tinker Donnelly, who will give a spiritual address on the "rights" spring, and Northampton Mayor Clare Higgins.

Later that night Noho Pride is partnering with the Iron Horse Music Hall for Pride After Dark, a concert with Melissa Ferrick.

"This has gotten pretty big," said White. "I encourage everyone to come and be a part of it."

For more information or to volunteer in the parade visit

"Dyke March"

It's been a while since Northampton has had a Dyke March, said event organizer Suzanne Seymour, executive director of the LGBT Coalition of Western Massachusetts, a nonprofit based in Northampton. The city hasn't hosted such a march since the early 1990s, she said.

Dyke Marches are typically held on the eve of gay pride parades in major metropolitan areas, she noted. Cities including Boston, San Francisco and New York City have marches planned this year for June.

The marches are intended to promote lesbian issues, said Seymour, and celebrate the accomplishments of lesbians past and present. The Dyke March and the Noho Pride Parade are separate events organized by separate organizations.

Seymour said a major theme of the march is to "take back the word." Dyke is a derogatory term for a lesbian, but Seymour said the word is also used comfortably in the gay community.

"We need to recognize that words have power to hurt or to heal us and for many years the word dyke has been used as a way to injure the spirit and it is time to reclaim the name," she said.

"Some people may not want to be called a dyke," said Seymour, "but I think it's important to start the dialogue on this."

Seymour said marches have been controversial in the past, not just for their name, but for who is allowed to march. The marches typically limit participants to gay women, with supporters cheering from the sidewalks. The Northampton march, however, welcomes anyone who identifies as a dyke to march. This includes transsexual men and women, Seymour said.

Seymour said she anticipates about 500 people will attend Friday night's march.

"People see gay rights as normal, at least in the Happy Valley they do, but it's still something people struggle with all over the country and within our own state," Seymour said. "We feel the need to educate people about the struggle that has come before us."

For more information about the march visit

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