Schenectady Pride Festival reaches new heights in 10th year

Theoore Rausch, 4, dances with his sister, Eleanor, left, taking in the music at Gateway Park in Schenectady during the 10th annual Schenectady Pride Festival, Saturday, with their mother, Heather.

Theoore Rausch, 4, dances with his sister, Eleanor, left, taking in the music at Gateway Park in Schenectady during the 10th annual Schenectady Pride Festival, Saturday, with their mother, Heather.

SCHENECTADY With the Pride Arches providing a backdrop to Schenectady’s Gateway Park Saturday afternoon, the available lawn was filled with music, dancers, rainbows, smiles and love as Schenectady Pride hosted its 10th annual Pride Festival.

“Today is about coming together, refilling your heart,” Schenectady Pride co-chair Chad Putnam said. “It’s been a rough couple of years. culturally, socially, there’s a lot of things going on where people have a lot of fear and anxieties about the future. Today is an opportunity to come around, be hugged, be loved, have a good time, celebrate, fill up on all that love and positive energy.”

Saturday had the largest turnout ever for an event that began as a Facebook Marketplace advertisement under a pop-up tent with a handful of performers and 20 to 25 attendees on Jay Street, according to Putnam.

“There was a hope that we can create a space that can be everlasting and in 2019 with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising we were able to secure Schenectady Foundation funding and put in the rainbow pride arches,” Putnam said. “That gave us a foundation to have an annual event right here in this park. It’s really a chance for folks to see how alive and vibrant the LGBTQ+ community is in the city of Schenectady and then take that energy and send it out in positive ways in other parts of the Capital Region.”

The park was surrounded by food trucks, a portable main stage for entertainment and vendors supporting the LGBTQAI+ community.

One of the many welcoming tented stops on Saturday populated by women wearing Free Mom Hugs, a non-for-profit organization.

“We help any LGBTQ community member who is in need of anything from a hug, to support that a parent may have abandoned them in need of a seat at a Thanksgiving table, college applications to standing in at their wedding,” Free Mom Hugs Capital Region-New York organizer Tiffany Bardwell said. “We will support them in any manner that they need. It goes beyond moms, we have dads too. Today, we just have a lot of moms, but we do offer any kind of support that they need.”

Their work didn’t go unnoticed as she shared an earlier interaction with a young girl.

“Her mom dropped her off here and then left,” Bardwell said. “She wanted to be here, but she didn’t know anyone or what to do. She came over to us and she got a hug. Then she went off to see other events and would circle back to us, just to check in because we were here for her. We gave her comfort knowing she knew someone here today.”

Community service provider In Our Own Voices represented one of the many outreach organizations also on site Saturday.

“It’s very important for us to be here because the community, if we’re not here, they’re not going to know our events, they’re not going to know who we are, they’re not going to know what programs are,” LGBT Health and Human Services Director Shadey Mercado-Perez said.

Those programs provide support for people in the LGBTQAI+ community, but also to the companies and organizations they work in.

“We have the WSW support group which is for women who love other women, the trans-parent support group, the men’s group and we also have a life after 50 group,” Mercado-Perez said. “We offer training and technical assistance to other organizations on things like language, how to be inclusive, LGBT 101 cultural awareness and bias.”

The smiles, sharing awareness and more didn’t end at Gateway Park later Saturday afternoon as festivals, celebrations and events will continue throughout the Capital Region.

“I love being able to have it early in the month because at the end of the month is the big New York City pride parade which is legendary,” Putnam said. “It’s nice to see that people are ready to celebrate, they’re all like it’s Pride Month. We’re ready to get out and have a good time, so it’s fun to be able to do it the first weekend.”

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