MONROE, CT — A Rainbow Flag flies over Monroe Town Hall and another colorful display can be seen on Stepney Green, as the town celebrates Pride Month, a tribute to those who were involved in the Stonewall Riots of 1969, which were sparked by the police raid of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, a haven for the gay, lesbian and transgender community.
Nick Kapoor, a town resident and a member of the Board of Education, organized a flag raising ceremony outside Town Hall Saturday morning, with permission from First Selectman Ken Kellogg. Well over 100 people attended the second annual event.
The crowd cheered and waved mini flags after Kapoor and Kellogg hoisted the Pride Flag up the pole together. Everyone who attended was given three mini flags, including the Bi, Trans and Pride flags.
“Imagine for a moment in this upcoming week, when this flag is flying, that a parent and a child are walking up the Town Hall walkway right here to get a dog license, and imagine that child looks up and sees the Pride Flag,” Kapoor said during the ceremony. “Now maybe that child is gay or bi or trans or none of those. Maybe they’re an ally. Maybe they don’t know it yet. But they look up and they see the Pride Flag and they know that their town has their back. That’s a really, really important thing.”
Kapoor said the statistics on LGBTQ+ youth can be shocking. For instance, LGBTQ+ students are three-to-four times more likely to be bullied in school, and 50 percent of transgender students attempt suicide at one point in their lives.
“But it is events like these where we can show up and can tell students that, ‘you matter.’ That makes all the difference,” Kapoor said. “Representation matters.”
Though gay marriage became legal in 2015, Kapoor said the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is not over. Among the things they want are equality in housing and employment opportunities, fair medical treatment and appropriate insurance programs, and for the physical assault of a transgender person to be considered a hate crime in every state in the country, according to Kapoor.
He recalled a case in Tennessee from only two years ago, when a lesbian couple was denied an apartment by a landlord who said, “I don’t rent to lesbians.” Kapoor said the couple had no legal recourse.
“We need to elect and appoint officials who will stand up for LGBTQ+ rights at all levels of government: local, state and federal,” Kapoor said. “We need to pass the Equality Act in the Senate. We need a transgender student policy in our Board of Education to make sure all students are safe and treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.”
Young people speak out
Two Masuk students spoke at Monroe Pride. Kenny Clark, a junior, and Addi Greenawalt, a graduating senior. Greenawalt introduced herself as a 19-year-old trans woman.
“But more than that, I’m a sister, a daughter, a friend and more importantly a human being,” she said. “We’re all human beings at the end of the day and we all deserve to feel loved and respected. The Pride Flag being raised today shows me that there is hope.”
Three years ago, Greenawalt said she did not know if she could find something to make it. “But I found love within myself,” she said. “Another thing that this Pride Flag shows me is hope — hope for those younger than me, in the closet or out, that they will find love, that they will be appreciated, respected and valued. Love is love.”
Clark said he is “incredibly happy” about all of the progress Monroe has made towards the LGBTQIA+ community, and how important it is for the Pride Flag to be on display at Town Hall.
“Pride Month is so much more than just parades and wearing rainbow clothing, it emphasizes living life as your authentic self, honoring the people who sacrificed and paved the way for us, loving yourself, supporting LGBTQ artists and businesses …” he said.
Clark said Pride Month is for those who are out and those who are still struggling to come out. He recalled all the love and support he felt from his family when he came out as gay, but noted that not everyone is as fortunate.
“Hopefully with more events and acknowledgment like this throughout Monroe, the state of Connecticut and our country, LGBTQ youth will have less fears and anxieties about coming out,” Clark said.
While discussing how society can be better, Clark said it is not enough to be friendly with someone who is part of the LGBTQIA+ community to be considered an ally.
“Ensuring change is what gives you that title,” he said. “Stand up when you see something wrong. Correct those who make insensitive remarks. Respect people’s pronouns and, most importantly, actively educate yourself on current issues. Homophobic comments are still normalized in today’s culture and it’s our job to stop this.”
Monroe stands against injustice
The Rev. Jennifer Gingras, pastor of Monroe Congregational Church, led the crowd in prayer, asking God to teach people to love each other as they are.
“I bring you greetings from my faith community, the Monroe Congregational Church,” Gingras said. “We are an open and affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ, where we invite and welcome into our community persons of every age, race, ability, economic and social status, nationality, faith background, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, marital standing and family structure. Because love is love and all are welcome.”
First Selectman Ken Kellogg said a few words before proclaiming June 5 as Pride Day in the town of Monroe. After reading the proclamation, he presented it to Greenawalt.
“I urge all citizens to recognize the contributions made by members of the LGBTQ community and to actively promote the principles of equality and liberty,” Kellogg said.
The first selectman spoke of how the town recently came together for Memorial Day to honor those who gave their lives for our freedoms.
“Today is about rejecting prejudice and injustice and celebrating equity, equality and liberty,” Kellogg said. “We’re here today to celebrate a freedom that many of us take for granted, and we should not: the freedom for people to simply be who they are and to love by simply following their heart.”
Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza also spoke during the ceremony.
“I’m so excited and so proud to see so many young people here with us today, speaking up for what they believe in and trying to make the world a better place by making their town a better place,” he said. “That’s awesome. That’s the spirit we need.”
Kobza, who grew up in Monroe, said he is happy to have a seen a lot of progress in his lifetime in how inclusive the town has become over the decades. “We came a long way,” he said. “Silence and shunning was the norm when I was growing up.”
He chronicled some of the things Monroe public schools is doing to promote diversity and inclusion, empowering students and working to ensure LGBTQ+ students feel safe.
“We know all of this work is aspirational,” he said. “While I’m very proud of all of the strides we have made, like so many things, we know this is a continuous journey. We will continue to stand up for and with our LGBTQ+ community.”
Pia Ledina, owner of Turning the Page, a bookstore in town, hosted an after party at her store. At the flag raising, she had a table with materials from a book list she compiled about characters with different experiences.
Speakers thanked Nick Kapoor for taking the initiative to organize the Monroe Pride event for the town, including Theresa Oleyar, who admitted to “hijacking the mic” to do so.
“Those of you who know Nick, know he will never stand up here and want grandstand or want the credit or the attention on him — at least not in this way,” Oleyar said. “But I can’t let a second year go by without thanking the person who made this all possible here in Monroe and that is Nick Kapoor.”
Monroe Pride Photo Gallery
Karen Coffey took photos capturing images of Monroe Pride. Click on an image and arrow through: