There’s really something liberating about this time of year—as if we’ve been loosed from an icy grip that held time still, congealed in a bitter, frozen solitude. Perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic; but, after the brutal, seemingly relentless winter we just had, spring has come on like a welcomed harbinger of possibility and with a renewed fervor of things to come. We’ve waked from the enduring thaw to encounter firsthand the power and magnificence of Nature. Though we’ve seen the devastation she’s capable of—catastrophic earthquakes, towering tsunamis, and massive tornadoes—we’ve also been privy to her resilience in restoring order and life to a battered landscape. Flowers are blooming, trees are filling with leaves, and the air is intoxicating with its sweet, warm smells. The winter-ravaged vegetation suffers the storm and returns life, as we too are revitalized—reborn out of the ashes and into the light.
Of course, as I look upon these words, I risk some inner sense of hypocrisy; for many of us, this time of the year also ushers in the head spinning coming weeks of finals—papers, lesson plans and exams. I can more easily write about serenity than embody it myself (some things are far simpler said than done). What keeps me moving forward now, however, are things to come and the promise of a summer of solidarity. Our gay softball league has just gotten underway, the streets of New Haven are beginning to come alive, and the month of Pride celebrations is quickly coming into sight over the horizon.
This summer promises to be an exceptionally prideful one on account of some really exciting events. New Haven Pride returns to the first Saturday in June—kicking of a month of Pride celebrations along the East coast. New Haven Pride represents a coming together of a community to celebrate, in style, our accomplishments and our lives—encompassing both the difference that makes us unique, and the sameness that makes us one. For those in our community and those not, pride helps us all recognize this binding unity that tethers us all together in harmony. Walt Whitman captures this temperament best in the opening lines of “Song of Myself”:
I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
Always, to look at and appreciate where we are in the present moment, we must look at where we have come from, where we began. New Haven pride started back in 1998 and has been growing, alongside Gotham Citi—our host establishment—ever since. For purposes of relaying some of this history in the most authentic way possible, as well as find out about this year’s event, Robb Bart offers his own words on how this extraordinary event all started off at a kitchen table among friends and came to fruition through the hard, dedicated work of a community.
Gotham Citi was born at a kitchen table in a Milford beach house with my cousin, Kevin Ford, and friends Michael Brown, Billy Beavis, Bobby Russo, Colin Smith and Mike Longo; it was our idea that a gay club should be more about the community that supports it—it shouldn’t just be hip and play New York House music, but it should be involved and active as well. Through all our growth and changes in our programs, we have followed that mission to this day.
In the winter of 1997 I got a call from the Conn. Pride Committee asking if we had any interest in participating in the Ct. Pride event that summer. At the meeting I met Rick Stillson, aka Mucha Mucha Placa, and we spoke of how Pride should be a statewide event, not just one event always held in Hartford. The committee agreed so we reached out to the NHGLCC and Frank DeMayo, who has delighted about the idea and started on putting it together. The Rally, which was the speaking portion of the event, was moved to New Haven and our inaugural pride event commenced on the first Saturday of June in 1998 on the green; it was the first time anything like that had ever happened—the gay flag was flying from the flagpole overhead and it was a great day for being gay in southern Conn.
After serving two years as Chairperson for the event I stepped down, thinking that it should be about New Haven and Conn. Pride—not Gotham Pride; and anything that I was connected to would automatically be associated with Gotham. Frank DeMayo chaired it from there and attempted to get other establishments involved but, from what I was told, he was not well received in his efforts; I continued to support it financially, however, because it was so important to me to keep the tradition going.
Then in 2005 I got wind that the event was not going to be held and that the NHGLCC was simply unable to continue producing it. Not wanting it to die, I stepped back in and with the help of Mayor John DeStefano and our Alderwoman Bitsie Clark, decided to move it to Crown Street, which was much more manageable for me; we shut down the street and ran a tighter, more entertainment-based event that’s been growing ever since. The first event held in 1998 drew a crowd of about 300 people to the green; last year we had over 700 people in attendance.
This year we have a great lineup, probably one of our biggest ever. But, as the business climate changes and gay people feel more comfortable going to non-gay themed parties—which affects the bottom line that produces the revenue to put on such events—I really don’t know how many years I will continue doing this. But, to keep focus on this summer’s pride, look for our usual informational booths and local talent featuring Piper Daily and her girls, as well as The Diva Miss Longo and the Dollhouse Girls. Also, international gay icon, Abigail, will be making an appearance to perform her hit song Let the Joy Rise. And of course we’ll have our games, including the dunking of various personalities. Finally, we’re happy to welcome guest speakers Alderwoman Bitsie Clark, Josh O’Connell of the New Haven Pride Center (the new name of the NHGLCC) and our mayor, John DeStefano.
For me, I think pride is a lot more important than people give it credit. It’s these types of celebrations that introduce mainstream society into our little world; it shows them who we are, and maybe even breaks the ice a little to make our lifestyle more approachable for them. I truly believe that it’s occasions like pride that make New Haven such a welcoming city for us and allow us to branch out and be who we really are. Today, I see gay couples leaving Gotham Citi holding hands, walking down Church Street and feeling completely comfortable—15 years ago you would never have seen that and it’s events like these that have helped make that possible.