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How LGBTQ teens stepped up & saved their small town’s Pride parade

Progress pride flag (new design of rainbow flag) waving in the air with blue sky, LGBTQ community in Netherlands
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High school students in one Maine town stepped up to revive and organize a local Pride parade when no one else seemed inclined to take the lead.

The parade had been on a pandemic hiatus and no adults stepped forward organize this year’s event. The first Pride parade in Belfast, Mainetook place in 2016

Related: Ryan Fecteau will be Maine’s first out Speaker of the House. He’s got a record of breaking barriers.

In the face of the adults’ inaction, several teens, students at Belfast Area High School and members of the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), picked up the baton and ran with it.

The club’s president Willa Bywater told LGBTQ Nation that the idea originated with her mother, both as a way to go ahead with the parade and to give the GSA, which had faltered in recent years, some direction and purpose.

“I liked the idea of the newer generation of queer kids stepping in to carry on the tradition of the parade in Belfast,” Bywater said. 

The club’s vice president, Stella Dunson-Todd, also spoke to LGBTQ Nation and indicated that the parade is an important event for queer teens.

“It’s important for me as a queer teenager to be part of organizing Pride because I know how much it can impact other LGBTQ people in Belfast,” Dunson-Todd said. “Growing up, the Pride parade was always such a fun and supportive environment for me to be in, and I want to make sure that it’s like that for other kids and teens this year. Oftentimes LGBTQ kids can feel isolated at school and in general, and Pride is a way for us to not feel alone.”

In order to prepare for the parade, the GSA students did a lot of work. Their club’s co-advisor Annie Gray shared some of the steps they took to get everything set up.

“The students had to obtain a parade permit, work with our school district central office to obtain liability insurance, raise money for expenses, carry out a publicity campaign, and are looking forward to coordination of volunteers and parade participants on June 4th,” Gray said. She added that the school’s principal and vice-principal have been supportive of the effort and the GSA club recently achieved official club status.

The teens worked hard to secure funding for the parade and both Bywater and Dunson-Todd indicated that the experience was more challenging than they had expected, and Dunson-Todd said canvassing downtown to spread the word was “rewarding,” while Bywater expressed gratitude to the adults who helped out.

The parade will take place Saturday, June 4, 2022 and begins at 10:30 a.m. outside Belfast Area High School.

“I am so proud of how easily the club went from inspired to make Pride Parade happen to active in seeing it through!” Gray said. “They really see themselves providing this joyful celebration of inclusion for the whole community.”

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