(Host) For gay and lesbian Vermonters, a lot has changed in the past few decades.
There are new laws that provide civil unions and protection from hate crimes. In general there’s broader recognition.
But some of the cornerstone organizations that brought the community together over the years have disappeared.
One mainstay has been the annual pride celebration in Burlington.
VPR’s Jane Lindholm has preview of Saturday’s parade.
(Lindholm) In a Vergennes garage Bob Bolyard and Johnnie McLaughlin are putting the finishing touches on a giant cardboard birthday cake.
They’re working on their float for the Pride Parade. Bolyard and McLaughlin will be in character on their float as Amber and Lucy Belle LeMay from the House of LeMay.
(Bolyard) The House of LeMay is a drag entertainment troupe. We’ve been around for about 12 years. We’re guys who dress up as female characters. And we sing songs, we tell dirty jokes, and we dress outrageously.
(Lindholm) This year marks the 25th Pride Parade in Vermont.
It started in 1983 when 300 people marched to Burlington’s City Hall Park.
Peggy Luhrs was one of the organizers of that event. She says back then it took real courage to participate.
(Luhrs) You know, if you march in New York City not everyone you know is going to see you. But if you march in Burlington everyone is going to know. I mean I remember a guy who worked at IBM and he wound up with his picture on the front of the Free Press, and I guess he hadn’t thought ahead to this because he went into IBM the next day and everyone was sitting there with the newspaper and he got a bit of flak for that. So it was a brave step.
(Lindholm) Bob Bolyard from the House of LeMay says a lot has changed since then.
He doesn’t have to worry about his boss knowing he’s gay, or his friends finding out that he dresses in drag.
Marching in Pride isn’t the political statement it once was. But Bolyard sees it as a tribute to those who came before.
(Bolyard) It’s a reminder that 25 years ago you couldn’t walk down the street holding hands. Twenty-five years ago you could get fired for being gay. And whether some people think what we do today is silly, I look at it as a reminder and a thank you to those who made it possible for us to do it. Because if somebody hadn’t been having a march or a parade down the street then a lot of the rights that we have here in Vermont wouldn’t have come about.
(Lindholm) Vermont has a fairly progressive record on gay rights. There are anti-discrimination laws for housing and hiring.
And civil unions were legalized in 2000.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no prejudice.
Robert Toms owned 135 Pearl, the gay bar that closed last year. He says the struggle in Vermont is still far from over.
(Toms) A month ago a brick was thrown through the front window of the Gay and Lesbian community Center on Pearl Street. And then a week later graffiti all over the side of the building. Discrimination exits. Separatism exists. And I know it. So that’s why it’s important for us to continue.
(Lindholm) John Scagliotti agrees. He’s a documentary producer in Guilford and the creator of a PBS show about gay identity called In the Life.
But he says the gay movement is no longer a fight. It’s about something more universal and inclusive.
(Scagliotti) I think there’s so many great things that gay and lesbian people bring to Vermont that people want to know about and should participate in. So I think it’s a mixture of learning and explaining and being who you are and finding whole new ways of communicating. And that to me is more exciting than fighting.
(Lindholm) A lot of people agree. Organizers of the parade say they expect thousands to show up this year a far cry from 25 years ago.
For VPR news, I’m Jane Lindholm.
(Host) The pride parade steps off at noon at the bottom of Church Street, and concludes at Battery Park.