Springfield Mass. Pride: Past, Present & Future

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By: Nelson Rafael Roman*/Special for the NPG2015—

When thinking about the history of PRIDE in Springfield one can directly track it to the rise of LGBT Civil Rights movement in Massachusetts. Coming out of the late 70’s and early 80’s when the “community” in Springfield was tired of being in the closet and of hiding, nightclub owners wanted to create a sense of unity and celebration amongst each other. Many residents felt that if Northampton, whose Pride celebration is the first in the nation, could host a successful pride, then Springfield should be able to replicate it, if not surpass it. On the political front, it was the story of veteran Springfield Police officer Michael Carney, who took on the civilian-run police commission for rejecting his application to rejoin the force due to his sexuality. Officer Carney’s story became local and national news, Carney settled with the department and went back to work in 1994. The same year the first PRIDE Celebration was held. [pullquote]Many residents felt that if Northampton, whose Pride celebration is the first in the nation, could host a successful pride, then Springfield should be able to replicate it, if not surpass it.   [/pullquote]

Springfield Mass’ first PRIDE, featured a flag raising ceremony on the steps of Springfield City hall, and a celebratory block party. The owners of Just Friends, David’s Sisters and Pub came together and produced the first block party. The party included a dunking booth, food, live musical performances, like the headlining act Carol and the Burgundies.

The Pride movement in Springfield partially depends on the leadership of the local city government supporting the efforts of the committee. The first Pride movement started the year before former Springfield Mayor Michael Albano took office and lasted until he left office. Albano had a volunteer Liaison, Bill Conley who served as a direct link to the LGBT community of Springfield. In 1995, Mayor Albano and the City passed the Springfield Domestic Partnership Ordinance. This rallied the community and led to a second Pride Celebration in 1995. Springfield PRIDE continued up until 2003 when it moved the festival to Riverfront Park.

Once Albano’s successor former Mayor Charles Ryan took office, Springfield Mass Pride stopped. This isn’t the sole contributing factor to the ending of Pride, many point to the passage of Marriage Equality passing in Massachusetts, which prompted a lot of the older-partnered advocates, and community organizers to settle down and marry. Also, other factors were the lack of interest in the upcoming LGBT generation of the early 00’s as well as the declining energy level of existing PRIDE members. Springfield Mass PRIDE lay dormant from 2003 until 2011. [pullquote]The Pride movement in Springfield partially depends on the leadership of the local city government supporting the efforts of the committee. …Springfield Mass Pride week will take place from September 17, 2015 – September 22, 2015.[/pullquote]

In 2011, then City Councilor Amaad Rivera made history by becoming the first openly gay individual to serve on the City Council. Rivera felt, like many in the community, that Springfield had never had a pride celebration. Rivera changed that. He immediately reached out to Holly Richardson, Executive Director of Out Now to assist in making a revitalized PRIDE that was inclusive of all young, to young at heart, all races, creeds and gender identities. The initial revitalized PRIDE committee was formed and featured a Flag Raising on the Steps of City Hall, an Open Mic Night, an amateur Drag Competition, and an official PRIDE Party.

The newly revitalized Springfield Pride has created a renewed sense of unity amongst the LGBT community. As a result, a local Imperial Court chapter was founded, a local LGBT Film Festival is now in its second year and an LGBT Center will soon open its doors. The current pride features events for all members of the community, regardless of age and ethnicity.

Springfield Pride today is comprised of Rivera as Chairman, and representatives from Oz/XRoom/Pure Nightclubs, Bearhampton, Tapestry Health, Twist Nightlife Entertainment, Rebel Rise Entertainment, Kim Rivera, and Kelly Klein and The Imperial Court of Western Mass Inc, which also serves as Pride’s fiscal agent. The revitalized Pride is also extremely proud of the partnership between its committee and The Rainbow Times. The Rainbow Times has given support in the forms of fiscal sponsorship and serving as the official media sponsor of Pride over the past several years. [pullquote]In 2011, then City Councilor Amaad Rivera made history by becoming the first openly gay individual to serve on the City Council. Rivera felt, like many in the community, that Springfield had never had a pride celebration. Rivera changed that.[/pullquote]

Springfield Mass Pride week will take place from September 17, 2015 – September 22, 2015.  For more information please contact Springfield Mass Pride on Facebook. Also, for an in-depth history on Springfield Mass Pride from 1994-2013, look on YouTube® for “This is who we are, Springfield Mass Pride,” a documentary by former PRIDE Committee Member Jason Toews, which chronicles the LGBT history in Springfield with regards to PRIDE from the 90’s until 2013.

*Nelson Rafael Roman founded the Imperial Court of Western Mass Inc. in 2012, a nonprofit 501(c) (3) organization that raises funds for HIV/AIDS, LGBT, youth enrichment, and other nonprofits in Western Mass. Mr. Roman works for Colony Care at Home as the Human Resources Assistant. He sits on the Board of Directors for the Imperial Court of Western Mass (President), the Puerto Rican Cultural Center of Springfield, the AIDS Foundation of Western Mass, and Springfield MASS PRIDE. Nelson is currently attending Springfield Technical Community College, pursuing a degree in Business Administration.