Amid a small crowd and sweltering heat, the city of Winooski raised the Progress Pride flag Monday afternoon in Rotary Park as part of the city’s ongoing commitment to support and awareness for the LGBTQ community.
The flag was hoisted by Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott, City Councilor Bryn Oakleaf and state Rep. Taylor Small, P/D-Winooski, putting a figurative bow on a Pride Month that has been characterized within the city as momentous for its advancement of issues involving diversity, equity and inclusion.
“This event is important to Winooski as a recognition of both the hardships that LGBTQIA+ folks have experienced, and the achievements and impact they’ve had in the world,” Lott said.
Monday’s date marked 52 years since the New York City Police Department raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, which catalyzed the six-day protest known as the Stonewall riots.
The country’s first gay pride march was held June 28, 1970, on the one-year anniversary of the riots, and June has since become Pride month around the world.
Small evoked those riots in a speech before the flag-raising, speaking about the progress the country has made on LGBTQ issues.
“It was illegal to be out and queer and trans,” Small said. “And now we are at a place when we have unapologetic queer and trans leadership making change in our Statehouse, making change right here in Winooski.”
Small was one of the legislators who co-sponsored the bill that made Vermont the 14th state to ban the LGBTQ “panic” defense in court cases.
The Progress Pride flag was designed by graphic designer Daniel Quasar in 2018 to include representation for people of color and the transgender community.
“Our liberation is tied within one another,” Small said. “We cannot be free until we are all free.”
Before the flag was raised Monday, a local resident had questioned its absence during a Winooski City Council meeting earlier this month.
Jenn Childress, who has lived in the city for seven years, was attending a Winooski Wednesdays event in early June when she noticed the flag wasn’t atop the poles in Rotary Park. The Black Lives Matter flag, raised in August, was flying, as were the state flag and the Canadian flag — but nothing to recognize LGBTQ support.
Childress, who works as a literacy coach at Stowe Middle and High Schools, asked City Councilor Oakleaf to bring the issue to the rest of the council.
Childress also runs the schools’ Gay Student Alliance, which she helped found last year before the pandemic. For the increasing number of young people identifying somewhere on the spectrum of sexual orientation, she said, the flag will “speak volumes.”
“You can’t underestimate the power of symbols to welcome people,” Childress said.
Yasamin Gordon, Winooski’s first director of equity, was also at Rotary Park for the flag-raising. To her, the flag represents a commitment to follow through with other measures intended to make the city inclusive for all.
“I keep telling people, we should focus on what we want our Vermont communities to look like 20 years from now. That should be our goal,” Gordon said in an interview Friday.
Gordon said she’s been keeping busy since assuming her new job in May. She and the city government have been honing in on youth programs as summer progresses, including expanded programming at the Winooski Memorial Library and scholarship funds to subsidize passes at the newly opened Myers Memorial Pool.
Winooski also held its first city-sponsored Juneteenth celebrations this year.
However, pushes for equity have met opposition elsewhere in Vermont. Critics denouncing critical race theory have organized in Essex and more recently in Rutland. Student-led Pride celebrations at a Brandon school were disrupted, and artwork made by students to express support for LGBTQ rights was vandalized in Hinesburg.
Gordon isn’t deterred — just the opposite.
“That’s what lights a fire within me to say, this is why we need to educate. This is why this needs to happen,” Gordon said. “For me, that’s job security, right?”