Isabel Kirsch

On Sunday, a crowd gathered around the flagpole. Some sang, some clapped, some hugged each other — but all heads tilted upward as a rainbow flag was raised on the New Haven Green for the first time, kicking off the 21st PRIDE New Haven.

The flag-raising ceremony was the official start of a week of Pride events. This week’s program will include a film screening about a transgender member of the military and theater performances with LGBTQ+ storylines, culminating in a march and block party on Saturday. New Haven Pride Center Executive Director Patrick Dunn said extensive plans were made to ensure the week would be as welcoming as possible, especially in terms of giving visibility to various LGBTQ+ groups.

“We try to partner with as many queer organizations around the city as possible,” Dunn said. “We do feature the most Connecticut LGBTQ+ speakers and artists [out of] any other pride event.”

Among the nearly 60 people in attendance were mayoral candidates Justin Elicker SOM ’10 FES ’10 — who won the Democratic primary last week — and Urn Pendragon, a transgender woman running as an independent, as well as a representative from Mayor Toni Harp’s office. Mixed in the crowd were volunteers bearing flags from each of the respective communities under the LGBTQ+ banner.

For Dunn, Sunday’s flag-raising ceremony marked a new chapter in New Haven’s queer history. He said the first person hung in Connecticut for homosexuality was executed on the Green, so to have such a visible event in the same spot exemplifies the progress the community has made. Dunn said he and his team have tried to create the same visibility in planning out the rest of the week’s events. He also emphasized the importance of community dialogue in order to be inclusive and support all identities represented during PRIDE.

Not everyone was receptive to the flag’s presence on the Green, however. Before the ceremony began, a passerby could be heard yelling “Don’t f****** hang that flag.” Few took notice, and no one chose to engage with him.

As the crowd marched from the ceremony to a rooftop reception at the Arts Council on Audobon Street, Ace Ricker walked with the transgender flag waving freely over his head. Ricker, a transgender man himself, said he has been an advocate for queer issues for over 14 years. He told the News that being able to carry the flag means that he can represent voices of people who have been silenced. Ricker specifically emphasized the importance of representing the disproportionate number of transgender women of color who have been murdered over the last few years.

“As a trans man, I found there is a lot of lack of knowledge and awareness out there, and so I’ve tried to be a voice for others,” Ricker said. “No matter how much people push with hate, we will stand strong.”

In addition to Dunn, Connecticut House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Currey, D-East Hartford, both gave brief remarks celebrating recent trends toward bipartisan support for pro-LGBTQ+ measures in Connecticut. To laughs and cheers from the crowd, Rep. Currey, who is one of two openly gay lawmakers in the Connecticut legislature, proudly declared the 2019 legislative session the “gayest legislative session in Connecticut history,” citing the passage of five major pro-LGBTQ+ bills.

For Currey, the inaugural raising of a rainbow flag on the New Haven Green is one of many signs of cultural momentum and progress for the community. Another sign is the election of Avon, Connecticut fifth-grader Ella Briggs as the 2019 Connecticut’s Kid Governor, the first openly gay student to hold the position. Briggs ran her campaign on a platform prioritizing LGBTQ+ youth safety.

“If fifth graders can get it right, then we as adults should be able to get it right,” Currey said.

While pride is celebrated nationally in June, New Haven recognizes the occasion in September for two reasons. First, according to Dunn, New Haven residents often travel to New York or Boston for those cities’ higher-budget, higher-turnout June celebrations. Celebrating in September keeps residents from having to choose between competing events. Second, Dunn noted, much of New Haven’s population is student-based, so scheduling PRIDE in September allows for student participation. First-year graduate student Lauren Wilson GRD ’25, for one, appreciated the scheduling, expressing excitement that PRIDE is happening when school is in session.

For Ricker, the flag-raising ceremony, as well as PRIDE New Haven in general, is all about representation. And as he stared up at the flag, he couldn’t help feeling like LGBTQ+ representation in the city of New Haven would only continue to grow.

“As the flag was being raised, the biggest thing that was running through my mind was the hope we have and will not ever give up,” Ricker said. “Seeing that flag go up is another step in the right direction.”

The PRIDE March and PRIDE Block Party will be held on Saturday, Sept. 21. The Progress Pride Flag, a traditional rainbow emphasizing black, brown and transgender communities, will hang on the Green until Sept. 22.

Isabel Kirsch | isabel.kirsch@yale.edu

Thomas Birmingham | thomas.birmingham@yale.edu