In June of this year, history was made in Springfield as the city hosted its first-ever LGBTQIA+ Pride Parade.
The inaugural event drew many supporters as marchers and floats made their way through downtown Springfield, concluding with a block party that invited all to enjoy live music, food, games and more.
Zydalis Bauer spoke with Founder and CEO of the Springfield Pride Parade Taurean Bethea to hear more about how the day went and why now was the perfect time for this event.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: In June of this year, history was made as the city of Springfield hosted its first ever LGBTQ+ Pride parade. The inaugural event drew thousands downtown, and the parade concluded with a block party that included live music, food, games, and more.
I spoke with the founder and CEO of the Springfield Pride Parade, Taurean Bethea, to hear more about how the day went and why now was the perfect time for thisevent.
Taurean Bethea, Springfield Pride Parade: You know, honestly, just having visibility for the youth of the LGBTQIA+ community is so important in Springfield. You know, I mean, I am a Springfield native, and just — just seeing that there was really no presence of the community here, really got the ball rolling with — with the idea of producing Springfield’s first Pride parade.
So, you know, coming out of the pandemic, it just we’ve had some heavy, heavy years, you know, a couple of years. So, I just felt the time was right. You know, things were opening back up, we were coming alive again. And I just felt this was the perfect time for us to do a Pride parade.
And then with Northampton and Boston not doing their parade this year, it just ended up being the perfect time to launch this — this amazing event. So, we got it done, and it was it was beautiful.
Zydalis Bauer: Let’s talk about the actual parade. So, you had attendees, parade floats, parade vehicles, all marching through downtown Springfield.
What else did the day entail? Tell me all about how it went.
Taurean Bethea: Oh, the day…the day was crazy! It was — it was an insane day from the beginning. And I was totally freaking out because I wanted to make sure everything was perfect. But I had the most amazing team who just made the day just flawless, you know? And just run the operation perfectly. So, I was I was super happy with my team and what we created to just make the day awesome.
It was a long, long day, but we had some great performances, we had some awesome speakers, and the kids were just in the street dancing. It was beautiful. It was so awesome.
Zydalis Bauer: I was going to say, it was a really long day because it started at 10:00, ended at five. You had a block party after. Tell me about that.
How did it feel to see all the people in the streets of Springfield coming together after so much time being apart?
Taurean Bethea: Yeah, it felt amazing! And yeah, the day — the day — the parade started at ten, but we started at six! So, we started at six. So, by, you know, by ten we were just ready to go.
It, you know, it just felt like a day of love. You can physically feel the love and the happiness in the air on Saturday. And it was it was so special.
Ana, Springfield Pride Parade Attendee: I grew up here, and I — it’s the first pride of Springfield, so I needed to be here, hands down.
Jade, Springfield Pride Parade Attendee: And I’ve loved parades my entire life, like I used to, like perform in parades and all that. So, getting back in this environment, especially for something that I am a part of, and that I love being a part of, it’s so great.
Kaeli Novak, Springfield Pride Parade Attendee: We’re here to celebrate everyone. Celebrate love. Love is love.
So, we’re having a really great time and this is amazing to see for the first year.
Canden Hicks, Springfield Pride Parade Attendee: This initiative is beautiful, bringing everybody together to show that love is love no matter your age, shape, size or color, you’re welcome here on this earth and I am so happy to be a part of this parade today.
Zydalis Bauer: You also received a lot of support from local Springfield businesses, White Lion Brewing being one of them who collaborated with you to release a limited-edition beer titled The Pride of Springfield.
What does it mean to you, especially as a Springfield native, to receive this support and backing from your community members and businesses?
Taurean Bethea: It — it means a lot, you know? Because our mission here is to show the kids of this community that they are represented, and they are supported. So, to have those local businesses on board pushes that message forward.
And the great part about that collaboration with White Lion, proceeds of that, we have our Safe Space summer programing starting in July, and proceeds of that will go to our summer programing for the youth of this community. And we now have what we need to do it.
Zydalis Bauer: And let’s talk a little bit about that summer programing, because it ties into my next question. I know that you’ve been really open about the inner conflict you faced, you know, coming out with your sexuality publicly, in large part to — to it being really life threatening to come out as a gay Black man. And I know that that’s probably something that a lot of our youth and people face in our communities.
How can communities work towards changing that reality and becoming more supportive and safe as a safe space?
Taurean Bethea: It initially started in February of — of this year. We started our Safe Space Initiative, and our focus was to get businesses to commit to disavow any hate speech, any discrimination, any violence or bullying amongst the youth of this community.
So, we developed this cool decal after businesses commit and — and we would send them a decal that they put in their store windows, on their doors, offices. And we also have a digital one that they can put on their website. And that’s just a stamp of approval, saying that no hate speech, no bullying, no discrimination is allowed.
And we’ve — we’ve got such a great response. We have over 15 businesses now that are on board with that — with that particular initiative, and we’re looking for more. And if people want to sign up to become a safe space and really take that commitment, they could go to SpringfieldPrideParade.org/safespaces and they’ll be able to sign up, and we’ll send you guys a decal and you could just be on board and make sure that the kids of this community are safe.
And we’re now expanding it, like I mentioned, into our Safe Space summer programing, with a partnership with Springfield College here, July 11th it starts for grades 6 to 12, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 2 to 7 on the campus of Springfield College. And kids can also sign up on that same safe space page on our website to be a part of that program.
Zydalis Bauer: Now, what does it mean to you, kind of coming full circle, right? Being hesitant to come out with your sexuality, and now you are the lead organizer of the first ever Springfield Pride Parade.
What is this moment like for you personally?
Taurean Bethea: Well, when I came out, I came out rather late. At 33 I came out and, you know, it was just I was living in New York at the time and just living my life, you know, as a gay man in New York is a little more free, you know? So, I wasn’t even focusing on coming out. I didn’t think it was something that I needed to do.
So, I really started to pay attention with about what was going on in my hometown. Suicide rates among LGBTQ youth were skyrocketing, depression was way up. So, I decided to come out to show the kids that you have support. You know, you can be who you are. You don’t have to be afraid. And we can really just do this together, you know?
So, when I when I came — that was my main reason for changing the way I was thinking and actually coming out so people…so I could help somebody. You know, if I just help one person, my job is done.
And funny, when I came out, I said, “I don’t want to march on any parades. I don’t want to wave any flags.” I guess I was wrong! So, now we did the flag raising here on Wednesday, which was June 1st, and then we did the parade.
So, I was absolutely wrong in that theory and I’m so glad I was wrong because it feels so good to see it come to fruition and be well received by the community who we targeted it to.
Zydalis Bauer: Never say never. Right? You never know!
So, after a successful inaugural Pride Parade in Springfield, what does the future hold for this event?
Taurean Bethea: Oh, well, I’m going to sleep a little bit, at some point. And then, later this week, we’ll begin to plan 2023. And we just want to get bigger. We want to get better.
We’re going to start at Macy’s and just give as much as we can and we’ll just kind of edit it down, if we can’t do it. But we’re going to go big. Our goal is to go big.