June is Pride Month, and among the many celebrations in our region is the second annual Berkshire Pride festival, set for Saturday in downtown Pittsfield.
Kenneth Mercure is one of the co-chairs of this year’s LGBTQ+ Berkshire Pride Festival.
“The second annual Berkshire Pride Festival has expanded greatly on the first annual pride festival. And we called it first annual as an in-joke with the organizers because we were guaranteeing that there was going to be a second one, and there is.”
Mercure sees the second installment as an opportunity to cement a sense of continuity and place for the LGBTQ+ community in the Berkshires.
“The festival’s theme is embracing courage and power, and what we really want people to take away from it is to know that they have a place to go, know that this exists, and that it will continue to exist.”
He sees the festival as the collection and continuation of the work of many LGBTQ+ groups in the county.
“Sometimes, because it was a festival on a larger scale, it got labeled as starting everything, and there was a lot of work being done here before. By Rainbow Seniors of Berkshire County and Berkshire Children and Families and Berkshire Trans Group and the Live Out Loud Community Conference, but the thing that did happen after pride is that we saw this coalescing of the community, coming together and working with one another.”
This year’s festival features an expanded stage show.
“Instead of three drag queens like last year — headlining drag queens — we have seven. We have three musical acts, and also a performance artist.”
The largely local talent includes drag performances by Philly Pina, Boxxa Vina, Gemini Debarbay, Nancy Nogood, and others. Musical acts Melissa Fine, Madelyn Gardner, and Erinn Furey will be joined by DJ Ephraim Adamz.
"There’s always going to be that juxtaposition between the world that live in which can feel really dark and dismal at times and these moments of levity that we try to inject that sort of thing, but honestly that’s what makes events like this and the attendance of events like this a real act of revolution.”
Jahaira DeAlto is doing double duty at the Berkshire Pride Festival this year: she’s co-chair and MC.
“We’re acknowledging that world we live in — including the world that we’ve experienced right here in Berkshire County, with the death of Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien and other reprehensible acts that have occurred across the years, but what we’re really saying here is, you know, in spite of all of that we continue to live, we continue to shine.”
Mark Steele-Knudslien was charged with the murder of Steele-Knudslien in North Adams at the beginning of the year. She was the founder of the Miss Trans America Pageant, and was believed to be the first trans person to be murdered in America in 2018.
DeAlto says the festival will give attendees an opportunity to experience the freedom of stepping outside traditional understandings of gender.
“We have a drag tent. We have a set up where people can go in and get their faces on and try on some great drag clothing that’s been donated, and really just have that experience of bending and being flexible with gender, potentially for the first time. And that’s going to be a barrel of laughs.”
DeAlto sees the drag tent as another revolutionizing possibility for the festival.
“This is about getting everything that society has taught you to the side and exploring an aspect of your being that you may not have known had potential to be celebrated.”
In addition to the music, drag, and performance, a community resource fair will bring 20 local groups to the free festival at the First Street Common. Food vendors will be out in force. Mercure says all of this is to give attendees something concrete and actionable to walk away with.
“We’re hoping that people coming there feel embraced, that they have a safe space to go to, that they have a festival that’s for them, that they feel empowered after leaving to go out in the world and realize that you can make change, you can do things if you think of them — if you dream it, you can make it happen.”
Rain or shine, the 2nd Annual LGBTQ+ Berkshire Pride festival will run from 2 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, with the stage show beginning at 3.