NYSOM Contributor Memoree Joelle is a member of the LGBTQ community, and gives us an insider's take on why and how she's celebrating Pride Month in New York State.
--June is Pride Month in the Empire State and there has never been a better time than now to feel proud. This year is already proving to be a positive year for LGBTQ rights, and since DOMA was struck down last June, ever more U.S. states and other countries are legalizing same-sex marriages. Of course, there is still a way to go before we can say we are proud to have attained full equality for LGBTQ people in America and around the world. There have been some dark times: in the past six months anti-gay laws were enacted in Russia, gays in Uganda were the targets of so-called “witch hunts,” and other laws were written into effect that serve only to further marginalize the LGBTQ population. There were riots and hate crimes, murders and suicides. There was, quite frankly, a lot of bloodshed. Then there are the more subtle tragedies: the 12-year-old boy who lives in constant dread of going to school the next day, or the teenage girl who goes to sleep every night with the thought that dying would be better than being rejected by her family. There are the adults who have remained in the closet their entire lives because they were just too fearful to be themselves. And who can blame them? Because while there has been significant progress in recent years, there is still a battle ahead. That is why we have to remember why Pride is so important — because minorities have no place hiding behind closed doors. It is important because if you are a minority and born into a culture where there is no path to normalcy and acceptance of who you are, you have to make one. And that's exactly what LGBTQ people and our allies are doing, one step, one law, one festival at a time. We are proud of who we are and what we have accomplished, and we deserve a time to honor that, and also acknowledge the less vocal among us. That lonely girl, that scared 12-year-old and everyone out there who is suffering in silence needs to see that we are in fact proud. We are a resilient group, and resiliency is eventually rewarded with positive change. We keep forging ahead because we are good at it, and we are good at it because, well, we were just born that way. This year, with spring in the air, there is also a little extra one in our steps. The Hudson Valley kicked off 2014's Pride Month in New Paltz on Sunday, June 1. Organized by the founders of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center in Kingston, the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Pride March & Festival first began in 2005, a year after historic same-sex weddings took place in New Paltz. In 2004, the “New Paltz weddings” made national headlines when Mayor Jason West performed about a dozen same-sex marriages; these non-legal weddings were performed to challenge New York State's marriage equality laws. Ten years later, we've come a very long way. This year's celebration — appropriately themed "A Decade of Change" — convened at New Paltz Middle School, and the march route made its way to Hasbrouk Park. The Grand Marshals included Suzanne McHugh and AnnaMae Schuler, two of the women married by Mayor West in 2004, and Evan Wolfson, the founder and president of Freedom to Marry, a coalition "committed to winning and keeping the freedom to marry for same-gender couples." Anyone in support of equality is welcomed each year to register to join the march, or simply join in the celebration. The march is immediately followed by an outdoor festival with regional food vendors, music and family activities for all ages. The weekend of June 20, head north along the Hudson River to continue celebrating Pride in the town of Hudson. This year marks the fifth annual Hudson Pride Weekend, beginning with two boat cruises Friday evening. Saturday's parade through historic Warren Street starts at 2 p.m., and is followed by Pride Festival at Waterfront Park with family-friendly rides, music and plenty of food. For adults who want to continue the celebration, Club Helsinki is the place to be after dark, with a cabaret show and dance party. A month of Pride wouldn't be complete without mentioning the iconic NYC Pride Week, which starts off loud and proud June 27 with the Rally, followed by a VIP Rooftop Party and the lesbian Teaze event June 28. The March itself takes place June 29, departing from 36th Street and Fifth Avenue, and enthusiastically makes its way down to the intersection of Christopher and Greenwich Streets. This year marks the 45th anniversary of the legendary Stonewall Riots, and as usual the march will pass by the Stonewall Inn and a moment of silence will be observed. Other events that day include PrideFest, an afternoon concert and street festival, and the second annual Poolside Party. Don't miss out on the Dance on the Pier, which is NYC's largest annual fundraiser, with all proceeds from the dance going to LGBTQ causes. With so much to see and do, Pride can sometimes feel overwhelming to navigate. I admit that in the past, I have avoided the crowds. But this year is different: I went to New Paltz and will be in Hudson. I will be at every event in NYC, because I am proud to be a part of such a brave community of people, and I hope that in 2014, regardless of your sexual orientation, you will be, too. The only way to know for sure is to come out and find out for yourself. For more information and up-to-date details on Pride and relevant events in the Hudson Valley and NYC, visit biggayhudsonvalley.com and nycpride.org. For further resources in the Hudson Valley, visit Kingston's LGBTQ Center at 300 Wall St. in downtown Kingston: lgbtqcenter.org