Coming Out celebration planned for Bennington

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BENNINGTON — Bennington's first National Coming Out Day celebration is set for Oct. 11, in an effort by local organizers to continue momentum begun with the town's first Pride events, held in June.

The celebration from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Bennington Museum will feature a community archival exhibit celebrating the first Pride in Bennington, a coming out story slam, a screening of a documentary of Bennington's Pride events filmed by Catamount Access Television and a video tribute to Chardonnay LaTease, a performer at Pride who died recently.

"It just kind of made sense to continue celebrating first Pride here, such a historical moment in time," said Lisa Carton, president of the nonprofit Queer Connect Inc., which is hosting the event.

It also made sense to have the event on Oct. 11, in line with National Coming Out Day, Carton said.

"Oct. 11 has been a tradition to remind people how significant it is to us, on every level really, personally, emotionally, spiritually and socially, for us to be coming out," she said. "Sometimes we forget how important it is to just sort of let it be known, and be visible."

National Coming Out day originates in the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, held Oct. 11, 1987. It was the second such demonstration in the nation's capital and resulted in the founding of a number of LGBTQ organizations, according to Human Rights Campaign's website. Four months later, more than 100 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer activists gathered together and came up with the idea of a national day to celebrate coming out. They chose the anniversary of that second march on Washington to mark it.

Each year on Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day continues to promote a safe world for LGBTQ individuals to live truthfully and openly, according to the site.

The retrospective exhibit is a way to remember how fun Pride was, and is also a "personal and positive platform for voices that have been historically marginalized," said Elsie Campbell, vice president of Queer Connect.

Throughout the celebration on Oct. 11, footage will be played of LaTease, Carton said. LaTease was a very well-known and loved performer in the area, who died not long after Pride weekend.

"Many were affected deeply in our community," Carton said of LaTease's death. "She was thrilled to be part of this historic first [Bennington] Pride."

The celebration's coming out story slam is inspired by the story slam held the morning of the Pride parade in June at the Bennington Museum.

It was "amazing," Carton said, and organizers wanted to build on that.

"We wanted to have a round two for National Coming Out Day," she said. "So people get a chance to tell their stories. I think there will be a lot of connection there."

Bennington's coming out day event also celebrates a collaboration between Queer Connect and the Bennington Museum to start LGBTQ archives.

The archives will be located at the museum, and provide a space for Queer Connect to begin collecting and documenting LGBTQ presence locally, Carton said. "Which has never actually been done before," she said.

The start of the archive represents a "huge step" toward increasing visibility of LGBTQ people locally, Campbell said.

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"Part of increasing our visibility is remembering our narratives and celebrating our progress," she said. "[The archive] documents, and makes publicly available, queer history in the area."

Queer Connect is forming a review committee for potential archive materials, and invites people to submit photos and descriptions of items they'd like to be included, along with a statement about what those items mean to them, to queerconnect@yahoo.com.

These items can be anything, from memorabilia to songs to written items, regarding LGBTQ history in the area, Carton said.

Carton said she's heard from many people that they left Bennington as soon as they could, because there was no visibility or support for LGBTQ individuals in the area. "And we're changing that," she said.

She said she heard from some individuals that the first time they felt safe in their community was during Pride weekend in Bennington.

"We are coming out, and letting others know more truthfully who we are," she said. "It's lifesaving, in fact."

It's well-known that LGBTQ youth are at the highest risks for substance use issues and suicide, she said.

"That's what I'm talking about," she said. "One of the biggest resources to access is self-love. Knowing that you're accepted and embraced within your families and your community is critical, and this is all about that."

Campbell said Pride in particular made her feel more invested in wanting to make Bennington the best it could be.

"I'm a queer person, and I grew up in the Bennington area, and having pride and having visibility and not feeling alone really made me feel inspired about places that we can go," she said. "It's not just about Pride month in June. It's about living as a queer person in Bennington, and being engaged in the community. Queer people and allies. Everybody."

Increasing visibility for LGBTQ is pretty much all of what Queer Connect is about, Carton said.

"By doing so, we create better access to what we all need to thrive," she said. "A lot of people still don't understand what the challenges are to LGBTQ people in our community, so coming out is the first step in building connections, so people hear us, hear what our needs are."

For more information, those interested can go to queerconnectbennington.com, which also has a link to the organization's Facebook page, or contact queerconnect@yahoo.com, Sophie Nevin at sophiemarie540@gmail.com or Campbell at elspethadaircampbell@gmail.com.

"This is Bennington's coming out," Carton said. "And we're still in it. Coming out - it's a lifelong process."

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at

@BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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