Hundreds Turn Out For N.H. Gay Pride Festival

Aug 12, 2012

This past Saturday at Manchester’s Veterans Memorial Park, more than 500 people showed up to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

It was the first New Hampshire gay pride festival in 15 years.

But the lead up to this year’s festival was overshadowed by a donation from Nashua's Chick-fil-A. 

“We’re fabulous, come march with us. We’re here, we’re queer, we’re fabulous."

On this hot and humid Saturday, New Hampshire’s LGBT community turned up the volume on its fight against discrimination. 

"Two, four, six, eight, don’t pretend your kids are straight."

The Pride Fest looked like almost any other celebration at an outdoor park with a collection of food vendors and entertainment.  But this daytime affair also had a panoply of slam poetry, Libertarian speeches and a drag show.

"I’m Sabrina Hex of Manchester, New Hampshire Queen."

Hex wears a bolero-styled ballroom dress she made herself.

She says that with the passage of gay marriage, many LGBT advocates didn’t think New Hampshire needed a pride fest.  But Hex says:

"We’re still fighting to make sure that we keep our gay marriage. A lot of times it’s been up for repeal. We’ve kept it three times over so we’re gonna keep on keeping it. Our freedoms are pretty populist but don’t really have a community; we don’t really come to celebrate together."

In recent weeks, that community’s chance of unifying barely got off the ground.

Many gay rights activists were angry when they heard that Nashua’s Chick-fil-A franchise was going to give away free sandwiches.

The controversy centers on the corporation’s president, Dan Cathy, who frequently speaks out against marriage equality and supports gay conversion therapy.

Ian Struthers co-chairs Join the Impact-Massachusetts.  His organization, along with another advocacy group, GetEqual Massachusetts, was planning to show up at the Manchester festival.  But they backed out when they heard the organizers were allowing Chick-fil-A to participate:

"It’s incredibly naïve of them to allow this particular Chick-fil-A franchise owner to show up and donate a hundred dollars worth of sandwiches when this organization has donated millions to harming us. This franchise still has to give money to Chick-fil-A corporate. Therefore, Chick-fil-A corporate puts the money into their charity foundation, which funnels money into anti-LGBT hate groups."

"A lot of people want to be really angry about a lot of things."

That’s Tara Powell, one of the Pride Fest’s organizers.

"Here in New Hampshire, we have the freedoms to marry, we have adoption and we have one Chick-fil-A that wanted to do it. He’s a franchise owner. If we turn him away, what does that say for the rainbow of inclusion? The head of Chick-fil-A can say whatever he wants. We don’t have to like it. We’re doing whatever we want. And he doesn’t have to like it. It’s a bunch of free speech. That’s all it is."

Powell’s echoes the refrain of many Pride Fest attendees — many of whom are also allies of the Libertarian party.

"I’m Monica Dean. I’m originally from Ohio. I moved up here for the Free State Project."

As for the Chick-fil-A controversy, Dean says:

"We are strong on free speech. If you don’t want to support his business then don’t buy his chicken."

"Hi, would you like a sandwich. Yes, thank you. My pleasure..."

Meanwhile, two guys from Nashua’s Chick-fil-A were keeping a low profile.  They stood behind a luggage stand with insulated bags handing out sandwiches.

Jeston Rodriguez from Manchester couldn’t eat hers fast enough  — even though she’s boycotting the brand.

"I’m only eating because it’s free. I was sitting there, going, I want it so bad."

And that pretty much set the tone of the Pride Fest — a willingness to accept gestures from others, with room for debate.