The parade got off to a roaring start with Dykes on Bikes motorcyclists revving up their hogs at the corner of Plattekill Avenue and Main Street where hundreds of parade-goers cheered wildly. They were followed by one of three grand marshals -- Ulster County Executive Mike Hein.
The New Paltz High School graduate, and now top dog of the county government, was singled out by organizers for his work earlier in 2011 to create and promote an anti-bullying message through the “No Name-Calling Week” in public schools throughout the county, as well as his advocacy for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered adults in the Older American’s Act.
Then came the arch of rainbow colored balloons and marchers of all ages and gender under the Hudson Valley LGBTQ banner, with participants shouting the refrain, “Proud to Be You and Me.”
The Pride March first started in New Paltz in 2004, after then-Mayor Jason West (who was recently re-elected to office) married 25 same-sex couples outside of Village Hall. West’s weddings came as part of a tidal wave of marriage equality and gay rights activism throughout the country.
There was a large showing from area schools supporting their gay, lesbian and transgendered students, including a group from the Rondout Valley High School, Arlington High School, as well as elder gay activists including the group “Old Lesbians Organization.”
Several houses of worship were also part of the parade, lending their belief that “God loves everyone equally,” regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
Two of these included the First Congregational United Church of Christ, as well as New Paltz St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, represented by former Pastor Valerie McAllister and Rev. Gwyneth MacKenzie Murphy, the vicar of St. Andrews.
“We’ve been part of the Pride March every year,” said Rev. Murphy. “I’m out here to support friends and relatives who are gay, as well as to make a statement that God loves everyone, with no exception. Sadly, not all branches of Christianity follow Jesus’s teachings in terms of loving and accepting everyone.”
There were several lively groups, including one group of LGBTQ belly-dancers and feather dancers, as well as Superior Sounds -- who helped with the sound system and were dancing away on their float to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”
The other two grand marshals were provided with loud cheers and applause -- human rights activist Joyce Hunter and Pam Parker, a former New Paltz school bus driver who helped foster tolerance and no-bullying behavior on the buses.
Two young men were perched outside of Starbucks, watching the parade and revelers turned the corner towards Hasbrouck Park, where festivities, music and entertainment and education went on throughout the afternoon.
“We’re here because we’re gay and it’s fun and festive and something to do on a beautiful Sunday afternoon,” said 22-year-old Jordan Lepore, a SUNY New Paltz student who was there with his boyfriend of one year, Justin Heredia, 21, also a SUNY student.
Both of them said that they felt “very comfortable in New Paltz” being openly gay.
“I feel more comfortable and safe here in New Paltz and on the SUNY campus than almost anywhere,” Heredia said. “I feel that if I ever were to be harassed or bullied in New Paltz, that there would be 100 people right behind me to defend me.”
Ellen Dietz, a native New Paltzian and New Paltz Rescue Squad EMT, was there on standby for the Rescue Squad, but also said that “we’re the gay crew,” with her fellow EMT Stephen Paccione, who is also openly gay.
Dietz concurred with what the young SUNY students said. “We live in an incredible bubble in New Paltz. It’s a progressive, accepting, wonderful place to grow up and raise kids. I can walk down the street holding hands with my partner and never feel one bit uncomfortable. I can’t say that even about Kingston or Rhinebeck. It’s something about New Paltz.”
Jay Blotcher, the co-founder of the Pride March and the LGBTQ Community Center in Kingston, said that while he was delighted to see such great attendance and enthusiasm and “more and more families and couples and young people,” that it’s his sincere hope that “one day we become the victim of our own success and achieve equal rights in New York State and no longer have a reason to march.”
With a marriage equality bill passed through the Assembly and now in front of the Senate, Blotcher said that “there is this cowardly and/or homophobic cabal in the New York State Senate that has remained unwilling to recognize this as a human rights issue and not a gay issue or a religious issue. New York State is woefully behind the rest of the country on marriage equality and we should be leaders. Politicians need to govern based on the Constitution and not their religious beliefs.”
Jonathan Sennett, the Democratic candidate for Ulster County District Attorney, was also marching in the parade and said that he stands “forever in awe of Virginia Apuzzo (an active Ulster County resident and the first openly gay person to serve as a presidential aide -- to former President Bill Clinton.)
“Secondly I stand in strong favor and support of full marriage equality and sadly many of the people here do not share the same rights and status that the rest of us enjoy. And shame on us all for not working hard enough to ensure that those civil rights are upheld for all.”
For more information on the wide range of programs, events, outreach of the Kingston-based Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center, visit www.lgbtqcenter.org.