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Berkshire LGBTQ+ Community Acknowledges Tragedy, Struggle At Pride Month Ceremony

A rainbow flag waves in front of a stone building
Josh Landes

Berkshire County LGBTQ+ groups acknowledged the beginning of Pride Month Wednesday with a ceremony in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

A crowd gathered to watch the iconic rainbow flag of the LGBTQ+ community raised beneath an American flag on the steps of city hall. While Pride is often associated with cheerful colors and celebration, the speakers drew attention to how powerful entities can co-opt and sugarcoat the LGBTQ+ experience.

“It's definitely like the hyper corporatization of Pride, and while certainly the queer community appreciates allyship in all of its forms, you know, it does run the risk of kind of performative appeasement. You know, ‘we're going to cover as many things and rainbows as possible,’” said Najwa Squailia, founder of Berkshire Trans Exchange, which helps supply the community with gender affirming clothing. “We're looking at a period of time where more anti-Trans bills have been proposed and passed. You know, across the country, we're seeing our Trans youth being denied gender affirming medical care. And especially, you know, right now, we're seeing large budgetary allocations made to police, to military across the country and within communities, while at the same time we see communities struggling with food insecurity, intimate partner violence. You know, all of our schools need to help children across the country, not just Trans children, you know, need more resources and care.”

In her message for Pride Month, she said there is a need for intersectionality and collaboration.

“Movements around disability movements around immigration in this country movements around, you know, respect and rights for sex workers," said Squailia. "I mean, these are just a few of the places where there is work to be done and where relationships are being forged.”

The death of beloved community member and activist Jahaira DeAlto, a Trans woman who was murdered in her Boston home last month, also hangs over this year’s Pride. 

“For many, she was the first introduction to Pride that many of them had, you know. She really did set the foundation for how we organize here," said Berkshire Pride Chair Kelan O’Brien. “Most of her experiences were born out of the need for survival. They were not born out of looking to be in the spotlight or looking to get attention. She was doing it because she had to do it to survive. She was looking to do it because her sisters and her family and people of Trans and non-binary and gender non-conforming experience needs to survive. And so when I think about her legacy, and what we want to bring forward, it is her fight for intersectional liberation, not just here in the Berkshires, but across the country and across the globe.”

Last year’s Berkshire Pride was canceled due to COVID-19. This year, abruptly changing pandemic restrictions didn’t give the group enough time to plan a festival for its usual date on the third Saturday in June. O’Brien says instead, it will bolster another Berkshire group.

“We've been in conversation with Dennis Powell of the NAACP Berkshire County branch, and we are looking to not actually organize anything specific for Pride that day, but to support with the NAACP is doing for Juneteenth and in celebration of the end of slavery in the United States,” he said.

Berkshire Pride is also encouraging people to attend the Trans Resistance March in Boston on June 12th, and plans a rally in Pittsfield for Pride on June 26th – the sixth anniversary of the legalization of same sex marriage nationally.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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