Pittsfield, Massachusetts will host the third annual installment of Berkshire Pride in June.
Jennifer Wahr, 36, was one of the organizers of the first Berkshire Pride in 2016.
“It sort of grew out of a conversation that happened during a breakout session at the Live Out Loud conference which was up in North Adams at MCLA that year," said Wahr. "And it was just a small group of people who were really interested in having a pride event, something fun. We kept getting together as a community for sad events, for Trans Day Of Remembrance, for marches and rallies about rights being revoked or repealed, and we wanted to do something that was really fun, really exciting, and celebratory for our community.”
The first installment was a shoestring affair.
“We were actually amazingly able to pull off an event with about six weeks of planning that first year, and we had over 500 people attend that first one," said Wahr. "We had closer to a thousand people last year. We expect that our numbers will continue to grow as people hear about it and are able to come out.”
Wahr says the LGBTQ+ festival – which takes place on the Pittsfield Common smack dab in the center of the county – is a thoroughly Berkshire affair.
“This is a local pride," she told WAMC. "We’re not having speakers or people coming in from far away. This is our local community, our local friends and family, people who we’re celebrating. And there’s so many allies there also – people who aren’t necessarily LGBTQ themselves but have friends and family who are, and just being able to come out and have this picnic and listen to music and see some drag performances, get some good food, play with their puppies on the lawn, just sort of celebrate what it means to be a community – especially in this time and age in which we’re living.”
“We’re going to have all the things that our past Pride festivals have had – performances, vendors, community resource fair," said Mark LeBeau. "But this year it’s going to be bigger and better than ever, and we’re having on having a really great crowd and a lot of excitement for this year’s festival.”
LeBeau, 23, is another member of the Berkshire Pride team.
“Tapestry Healthcare is going to be there, and they’re a very big part of the local LGBTQ community, especially in providing really quality healthcare for members of our community," said Le
Beau, "as well as a lot of really well-known local drag performers, and that’s really exciting because it’s always a really fun show.”
The organizers’ efforts have garnered them an expanded profile. Earlier in May, Downtown Pittsfield Inc. gave Berkshire Pride the Community Award.
“And that came with a citation from the Massachusetts Senate in recognition of our efforts to put on this festival, to really embrace the LGBTQ+ community here in the Berkshires and celebrate our presence and our ability to have space and make a name for ourselves here,” said Le
Organizer Kelan O'Brien, 24, says it all starts with a ceremony at Pittsfield city hall June 1st.
“Linda Tyer will be there, mayor of Pittsfield," said O'Brien. "She will be issuing a proclamation for the month of June in Pittsfield is Pride Month. We will also be giving away the Berkshire Pride Change Maker award there.”
The award is given in honor of Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, the founder of Miss Trans America who was allegedly murdered by her husband at her home in North Adams in January 2018. This year’s winners are Kenneth Mercure, Kelly Heck, and Sara Shuff.
Wahr says the ceremony isn’t the only Pride related event happening in June.
“One of these is a cabaret party at the Colonial on June 8th, put on by Only In My Dreams events," she said. "And they have a giant drag show and they actually have some real celebrities coming to do judging of their drag performances.”
The organizers have their own goals for Pride as it evolves. LeBeau imagines a larger, multiday event throughout the county. O’Brien wants see it become more diverse and inclusive. And Wahr imagines Pride as a launching pad for something greater.
“We’re living in a period in which we have unprecedented freedom, but also at the same time there are forces that are acting against those freedoms and trying to curtail the rights we have in this country," said Wahr. "So I would love to see an organization does big fun events but also can be a force for people to organize, come around together and participate in creating other events.”
Berkshire Pride starts at noon on June 15th on the Pittsfield Common.