There are moments when we are lucky enough to see just how much work we still have to do. These are the times that galvanize us out of the complacency of believing “it’s different here,” or “it’s different now.” They are shocking and distressing, but we should appreciate these moments because they are preferable to the dull stagnancy of accepting a status quo as invisible as the air we breathe or, even worse, the quiet erosive slide of regression.
For some Chestertonians, news of the Town Council’s recent vote on permits for a Pride Celebration in Fountain Park was such a moment. To hear elected officials in this ostensibly close-knit, warm and friendly community espouse bigoted views and question their fellow citizens’—their constituents’—right to assemble in the public square for a family-friendly event designed to celebrate community members and build bridges among different parts of the population was disheartening and infuriating.
The second deadliest mass shooting in United States history took place at a gay nightclub, Pulse, in Orlando, Florida. 50 people died, and 53 more were injured. According to the FBI, more than 20% of hate crimes in the US are motivated by bias against sexual orientation or gender identity (commonly known as homophobia), second only to hate crimes motivated by racism. Even without considering acts and attitudes of discrimination and bigotry experienced by LGBTQ Americans that don’t rise to the level of hate crimes (including those displayed in the Chestertown Town Council last week), this statistic illustrates the significant hatred and intimidation that is directed towards LGBTQ people in America.
Leaving aside the panoply of legal and ethical reasons why denying a permit for this event would have been wrong and why the arguments that were made against it were destructive to the fabric of this community, this sobering statistic shows us why an enthusiastic and supportive YES to a Pride Celebration is the only correct answer if a town expects to be known as a place of acceptance, where all community members know that they can enjoy their full rights as citizens to a life free from intimidation and harassment. A resounding YES to a Pride Celebration is the only answer if a town wants to fight back against hatred and move toward a day when the promise of freedom, opportunity, and equality is a reality for all its citizens.
An unqualified YES is the only answer if a town wants to show its LGBTQ youth that they are championed, valued, and loved. And an emphatic YES is the only answer for a town that wants all its citizens and the wider world to know that bigotry and hatred of any kind have no home here. For if we allow discrimination and intolerance against one group, no group is safe.
The permit was granted, albeit by a close margin, and the event will go on. Chestertown excels at parades and festivals, and this one will surely not disappoint. It will be an affirmation of the right of all Chestertown residents to exist and to celebrate who they are and who they love. For after all, love is the operative word. As composer Lin-Manuel Miranda put it on the night of the Pulse nightclub shooting:
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers,
Remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
May the morning of May 4 dawn bright and clear this year, and may a beautiful spring afternoon provide the backdrop for a joyful celebration in Fountain Park, a celebration in which the LGBTQ people of this community can be themselves: openly, proudly, and secure in knowledge that their town accepts, appreciates, and embraces them.
Maria Wood returned to academic life in 2014, after a two-decade career in the music business, earning a BA in American Studies and a Certificate in Ethnomusicology from Smith College in 2018. Most recently, she served as Deputy Campaign Manager for Jesse Colvin for Congress.