June is Pride Month, and local advocacy and support groups are continuing their missions to connect with, brighten and improve the lives of LGBTQ residents in their communities.
Rainbow Merrimack Valley, formerly Rainbow Chelmsford, raises money to buy and distribute pride flags to residents and hosts a number of social and community-building events throughout the year. But June is a special time for the group, said member and organizer Pat Snow, because it was three years ago that it officially formed.
The organization started out of a dispute with the Select Board over the ability to fly a Pride flag outside of the Chelmsford Center of the Arts in June 2019. It was the same year the town recognized June as Pride Month, and some people offered to buy flags for local businesses.
It was after the Chelmsford Center of the Arts received “threatening phone calls” concerning the flag when the Select Board decided Pride flags — and most other flags — were not to be flown on town property.
But Rainbow Merrimack Valley is as vibrant as ever, Snow said.
The group buys a few hundred mini flags each year, handing them out at the library and other venues. One resident has had their flag stolen from their home several times, Snow said, but “every single time, we order new ones and send it over to them.”
The Select Board’s policy hasn’t seemed to slow them down.
“When you have a symbol like that that you’re able to fly, and then there’s some pushback and it goes away, it doesn’t send a nice message,” Snow said. “We basically had this symbol right in the center of town, and we’re not allowed to have it there anymore, so we’re going to do what we can to spread rainbows throughout Chelmsford.”
Symbols of visibility, especially around Pride Month, are important because they remind people of the diversity around them that they cannot always see, Snow said. Flags across town can also be symbols of hope for youth who are closeted, questioning their identity, or in need of support.
“As a gay person living in Chelmsford, it’s not the type of place where people are used to having a lot of opportunities to meet other LGBT people,” Snow said. “LGBT people are just a part of the fabric of any community wherever you go. You might not necessarily live in a place that has a whole lot of really blatant LGBT visibility, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not still your friends, family, neighbors, people you do business with.”
This Saturday, Rainbow Merrimack Valley and the Chelmsford Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee will host Come Fly a Kite on the Common from 9 to 11 a.m. And on Saturday, June 18, starting at 8 p.m., Snow will run a Queer Short Film Night at Lowell’s Luna Theater, which will feature local, independent filmmakers.
MAP for Health, a support network for LGBTQ+ Asian and Pacific Islanders, aims to embrace the many identities within queer spaces in Massachusetts.
Angela Tsai, an incoming sophomore at Boston University, found MAP for Health through the university’s student-led Queer Activist Collective. Tsai is a peer leader for MAP’s Asian Pride Program, where she connects with other queer youth through one-on-one counseling sessions, offering support and resources.
Finding a network of queer Asian and Pacific Island people with a focus of intersectionality was exciting, Tsai said, and she already is proud of the impact she and the organization have made.
“We focus a lot on just forming some sense of community where people can kind of express all aspects of their identity,” Tsai said. “It’s been really nice just to talk to people, and they’ve all said that this helps, and I think that in itself is very rewarding, just knowing that they feel more relieved after talking to me.”
Embracing multiple identities is pivotal to ensuring that all are heard and validated, Tsai said. Without acknowledging the many faces and facets of the LGBTQ community, Tsai said, we are missing out on learning and engaging with diverse experiences and stories.
“When you think of Pride Month and queerness, you typically think of a white person, and a lot of the time, any sort of person of color that is also queer seems to get left out of the photo,” Tsai said. “It’s really important just to recognize that, in order to fully support the queer community, you need to support all of the ethnicities and all of the races that identify as queer.”
Safe Homes, based in Worcester, creates safe spaces and community for queer youth aged 14 to 23 years old — a vulnerable population that are in need of support, said Project Director Renn Duffey.
Duffey first joined the program at 16 years old, when they came out and were consequently shut out of their “closed-mind” family and church group and lost their friends and safety net. Since then, Duffey has been with Safe Homes for more than a decade, where they continue to empower young people who are sometimes in the same difficult position Duffey was in as a teenager.
“I’m able to bring that very unique perspective, because I know what it was like as a youth, and I can make it even more fun for the kids that we’re working with now,” Duffey said. “What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to get trans kids and LGBT kids to (become) trans adults and LGBT adults, so that they can go and make those changes. They can be the next president. They can be the next political leader. They can be the doctor that cures cancer.”
Safe Homes virtually opened its Fitchburg State location in February 2021, with plans to bring in-person programming to the area in September, Duffey said.
The organization is hosting a Pride History Night on Wednesday, June 8, where attendees can learn about past leaders and important figures that paved the way for queer liberation. There will also be a LGBT Watch Party, where the group will look at a number of mini films and movies with queer characters, and an LGBT Art Night later this month.
For people who are grappling with their loved one’s identity, Duffey said that education is essentially. Being a safe, reliable person who first supports a young queer person is extremely powerful, they added, because it can potentially save that youth from falling down “a really, really scary path.”
“Even if it’s the hardest conversation, the most mind-bending material, it’s not going to be half as hard as that LGBT youth who struggles every day with their identity,” Duffey said. “I encourage everybody who has that really good attending heart to also put the work behind where their heart is because that’s really going to be how we make things actually safe.”