In the wake of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, which claimed 49 lives at a gay nightclub in Orlando one week ago, Schenectady’s Pride Festival was about showing solidarity and not retreating in fear, according to organizers and participants.
“This is to show that the hate does not win,” announced a drag queen named Champagne, who was introduced by city council president Leesa Perazzo as the Empress of Schenectady. “We’re here and we’re going to be here.”
Champagne, dressed in a skin-tight jumpsuit and six-inch, neon-green pumps, lip-synced Celine Dion’s version of Queen’s “The Show Must Go On,” the first of many performances Saturday afternoon.
Behind the dais from which Champagne performed, the steps of City Hall were festooned with pride flags.
Schenectady Deputy City Clerk Chad Putman, who helped organize the first Schenectady pride event five years ago, said any tips collected by the performers were going directly into a fund for families of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
“It was a really emotional day Sunday,” said Putman, of when he learned about the attack. “I was shocked, and just felt heartbroken.”
But the message on Saturday, he said, was one of solidarity as the Capital Region’s LGBTQ community unified in the face of tragedy.
“It’s about coming together to demonstrate our unity,” said Putman, “it’s about being visible, to come out of the shadows.”
Multi-colored picnic tables were pulled into the middle of Jay Street, which was closed to traffic from Franklin Street to Liberty Street. Festival-goers sat in white lawn chairs watching the performers and talking. People also set up lawn chairs on the sidewalk or sat on stoops across from City Hall to take advantage of the shade provided by buildings.
Putman said the first Schenectady Pride event was organized to highlight the city’s gay business community and the gay community at large.
“As you walk down Jay Street or walk down State Street there are so many gay- and lesbian-owned businesses,” said Putman, “This is an opportunity for us to come together and show who we are and create a safe place to celebrate.”
James Shultis, director of programs for the Pride Center of the Capital Region, said the attack in Orlando was a reminder to the community that, for all the advances in the gay rights movement, “we’re still vulnerable.”
Events like Schenectady Pride, however, “encourages people to come out and let the community know we’re here. We want to support each other and our allies,” he said.
Shultis and Putman were particularly pleased that the event took place on the steps of City Hall and with the full backing of city officials. The Schenectady Police Dept. assigned two officers to patrol the event as well.
“Not that we expect anything to happen, but the added protection is good to see,” said Putman.
Shultis noted that, in the wake of Orlando, he’s seen many conversations arise around safety in the Capital District’s gay community. Saturday’s event, he said, was a show of unity and mutual understanding both inside and outside of that community.
“Even when there’s a tragedy we still have each other to lean on,” said Shultis. “And the fact that it’s on the steps of City Hall, this is visible support from the city that they’re behind us.”
Elizabeth Whelan was sitting on the sidewalk, taking in the sights with friends as performers sashayed across Jay Street to hits like David Guetta’s “Titanium,” featuring Sia — a defiant song that seemed to fit in with the day’s theme of resiliency and perseverance.
“It’s really fun to be around people like this,” said Whelan. “It’s a really great community.”
Whelan’s friend, Nadia Nugent, said she came out to Schenectady Pride to show that love triumphs over hate.
“I just love the energy,” she said. “It’s important to come out to events like this to show that the hate doesn’t win.”