By: Christine Nicco/TRT Reporter
HOLYOKE, Mass.–Last month, approximately 1,000 people passed through the Holyoke Canoe Club in support of the LGBT Coalition of Western Massachusetts’ annual fundraiser, Rainbow RiverFest, according to festival officials. Although attendance was lower than expected due to a grim weather forecast leading up several days to the event, organization spokespersons still believe that their overall objectives were met.
“This year was extremely successful because our goals included very specific things that did occur,” said Suzanne Seymour, Executive Director, LGBT Coalition of Western Massachusetts. “We had a large attendance of young people, with our Youth Tent being very active and full for the entire day, and attendance at all workshops was high. Many high school and college GSAs were present, so we were able to connect with an age group we had hoped to attract.”
Seymour spoke of the importance of providing LGBT people a physical space where they can come together and connect, which is an objective often not accomplished through the internet and social media alone.
“Even though we feel the forecast scared folks from coming out, I saw and heard stories about the great connections that were made, and everyone I spoke to had an overwhelmingly great time,” she said. “That is the measure of success we were looking for.”
Since the inception of the Coalition two years ago, it has provided scholarships, referral services, education forums and events to communities in Western Massachusetts and beyond. Seymour stresses the importance for people and organizations to get involved.
“We recognize that LGBT struggles continue not only throughout the world where it can be extremely dangerous, but also right here in our own backyard,” Seymour explained. “It was only last week that 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer in Buffalo, NY committed suicide because of being tormented and bullied about being gay. And then, two months ago, a young gay man was beaten by a bunch of teenagers in Springfield as he walked home. I personally know of a 17-year-old young man in Northampton who is afraid to come out to his parents because he fears his father’s (possibly violent) reaction.”
The bottom line? People are always falling through the cracks she said.
“We are looking for those cracks and will do whatever we can to make sure far less people are falling through,” said Seymour. “We can never forget where we have been or the struggles we have overcome to get where we are today. This is something that people sometimes [living] in our area forget or seem to be ignorant of. We have come so far, but we still have so far to go. It’s important to be up to date on what the rest of the world and our local communities are going through regarding LGBT struggles.”
The LGBT Coalition of Western Massachusetts is a 501(C)(3)non-profit organization established to improve and preserve the well-being of LGBT and Queer-identified people of all races and ethnicities through education, advocacy and outreach programs, according to the organization’s website. Upcoming outreach events include their Halloween fundraiser on Friday, October 28. To check their comprehensive calendar of fundraising events throughout the year, or to learn more about the Coalition and to get involved in its efforts, please visit www.lgbtcoalitionwma.org.