For the third year in a row, the New Haven Pride Center, in conjunction with sponsors and volunteers, hosted New Haven’s largest Pride event to date.
From a tasteful kickoff cocktail party Friday with Cultural Affairs Commissioner and Director of Arts, Culture and Tourism Andrew Wolf, to a more rambunctious Block Party Saturday night, the weekend was filled with opportunities to dance with, learn about and support the LGBTQ Community of New Haven. Culminating in an informative Queer History Walk on Sunday, the event drew attendees in the hundreds.
As participants broke out their rainbow–patterned flags, banners and suits, it became overwhelmingly clear that the weekend would be characterized by festivity and celebration.
But music and dancing are only one part of Pride. Amidst debates about the validity of safe spaces, nonbinary identities and the fluidity of gender, the need to celebrate Pride arose among the crowd with unprecedented urgency.
“All of us are here today for a reason. We all need events like Pride for a reason,” said Seth Wallace, NHPC board member and organizer of Pride weekend. “Maybe you have a young family member who is struggling to come out, or to find their place in the world. Maybe you just arrived in New Haven and you’re simply looking for a place to call home. So many of us are.”
Wallace went on to say that the NHPC and Pride events are environments that he considers his home. The NHPC provides a wealth of resources to LGBTQ individuals — young and old — that include anything from mentorship and support groups to mental and physical health assistance and educational scholarships.
Though the center started out with limited resources and a small group of activists as its foundation, it has grown to have a major impact on New Haven as a whole. Wolf recounted an experience that he said sums up the NHPC’s influence: He was walking through New Haven when he came across a same-sex couple holding hands and eating ice cream.
“What I thought was: New Haven is a place you can stroll, and that is not true of every city in Connecticut, or the northeast, but it’s so nice that you can walk down the street and you can feel that this is your home,” he said. “That is our objective. We want to foster a climate of respect … We want you to celebrate your city, because we celebrate you.”
And, indeed, the city has had a rich and enduring LGBTQ history that is very much worth celebrating.
Kenneth Hopkins, executive director and founder of the New England Ballet Company, reminded attendees at the kickoff cocktail party that events like Pride not only show New Haven how far it has come in history, but also that the history and fight for Pride is far from over.
Telling the story of his partner, Drew Mancuso, Hopkins recounted the tremendous battle Mancuso fought as one of the oldest living survivors of HIV. Mancuso contracted the virus in the 1970s from a botched blood transfusion that was supposed to treat her hemophilia.
Hopkins said that a month after turning 21, Mancuso survived a violent attack at the hands of the East Hartford Police after exiting a bar dressed as a woman. The officers said they were going to beat up Mancuso and although she tried to run away and seek help from the state police, she did not make it.
Thus, a shattered pelvis, a crippled and later amputated foot, a hip replacement and prosthetic leg for a high-heel foot became the makings of “Sassie” Saltimboca, Drew Mancuso’s stage character.
Sassie would become a veritable sensation within the LGBTQ stage scene in roles that ranged from the Nutcracker’s Herr Drosselmeyer, to Swan Lake’s von Rothbart.
“Her whole life, she had wanted to actually be a woman,” Hopkins said. “In her last six months living, fighting and battling cancer, she actually began transitioning.”
Saltimboca passed away Aug. 17 last year.
To commemorate Sassie’s extensive artistic credentials, her contributions to the LGBTQ community and her dedication to authentic identity, the New England Ballet Company announced its second year of the Sassie Saltimboca Memorial Fund at the Kickoff Cocktail party on Friday. Hopkins said that by rewarding an outstanding performer each year with a dance scholarship, Sassie’s memory will live on.
Beyond the flashing disco lights, rainbow confetti and lively music of Pride, lies something much deeper and more profound — that is, the fact that members of the LGBTQ community who have passed while waging the war for acceptance and self-identification can live on through Pride weekend.