First ever Woonsocket Pride celebrationStarting at River Island Park, the march of about 100 people made its way past the classic car show and through the streets of Woonsocket, ending at a small stage at the World War II Memorial Park. It was a protest made all that much more pointed for happening on June 28, 52 years after the Stonewall Uprising in New York, the event that jumpstarted the modern LGBTQ+ movement and the reason we celebrate Pride in the month of June.
Published on June 29, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist
The first annual Woonsocket Pride event was initially going to be a small celebration at River Island Park, but as Woonsocket city officials pushed back against the event the celebration morphed into a protest march. Officials denied a park permit to hold the event at River Island Park because of construction – that was not happening. When organizers attempted to move the event to Market Square city officials revealed the existence of a classic car show at that location. When the event moved to World War II Memorial Park and incorporated a protest march, Woonsocket Police attempted to warn organizers off.
It didn’t work.
Starting at River Island Park, the march of about 100 people made its way past the classic car show and through the streets of Woonsocket, ending at a small stage at the World War II Memorial Park. It was a protest made all that much more pointed for happening on June 28, 52 years after the Stonewall Uprising in New York, the event that jumpstarted the modern LGBTQ+ movement and the reason we celebrate Pride in the month of June.
Former Woonsocket City Councilmember Alex Kithes, a cofounder of Rebuild Woonsocket, explained the last minute obstruction by city officials who seemed to be acting to shut down the celebration. Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, said Kithes, “had the police call me to basically push us off from having the event.” Baldelli-Hunt was formerly a state representative representing District 49 in Woonsocket who resigned in 2013 to run for Mayor. During her tenure at the Rhode Island General Assembly Baldelli-Hunt infamously voted against marriage equality, which passed in Rhode Island two years before the United States Supreme Court ruled LGBTQ+ marriage a constitutional right nationwide.
“So now it’s a protest!” said Kithes to the crowd, made up of supporters from all over Rhode Island.
With temperatures in the low to mid 90s, the march made its way from River Island Park to the Woonsocket City Hall. The Extraordinary Rendition Band (ERB) provided the music.
City Hall, said Kithes, “could be a force for so much good in a city that needs a city government that is going to pay attention to the problems and try to solve them. It could be a force for good, but in fact it’s not.”
Kithes led the crowd in a chant of “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Mayor Lisa has got to go!”
The march continued up North Main Street until it passed Lops Brewing, where Woonsocket State Senator Melissa Murray (Democrat, District 24, North Smithfield, Woonsocket) was holding her fundraiser. Attending the fundraiser were Senators Maryellen Goodwin (Democrat, District 1, Providence), Samuel Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence), Bridget Valverde (District 35, North Kingstown, Narragansett) and longtime political insider, and lobbyist Matthew Jerzyk, a former ally of Speaker Nicholas Mattiello.
“I love you, I support you and I will continue to fight for you all,” said Senator Murray to the crowd.
From Lops Brewery the marched continued on to World War II Memorial Park.
Alex Kithes acted as emcee for the speaking and entertainment portion of the event.
A musical performance from Taylor Neptune:
Bonnie Piekarski, the founder of the Milagros Project:
AJ Delsignor with a spoken word poem:
Dion Sage, LGBTQ+ activist, preacher and podcaster:
A drag performance from Irina Devaroux:
Harrison Tuttle, Director of the Black Lives Matter RI PAC:
Marlene Guay, a boardmember at Rebuild Woonsocket:
A second musical performance from Taylor Neptune:
LGBTQ+ historian Kate Monteiro talked about the history of Woonsocket before Stonewall, where in 1960 Woonsocket police began harassing and arresting patrons of a bar called Zanzibar. Zanzibar did not go quietly, they sued to remain open as a place where gay men and women could meet, but unfortunately lost that lawsuit. After Zanzibar the police turned their attention to a club called The Holiday Inn. They took their case all the way to the Rhode Island Supreme Court – and lost.
“That was Woonsocket,” said Monteiro. “That was 1963. that was 58 years ago. There were queers in this town that were strong enough that in the face of the police, they continued…
“They have always feared us. 60 years ago, today. The mayor then, the mayor now,” continued Monteiro. “They have feared feared us, they have our sexuality, but they have always feared our gathering. As much as they worry about who we love, they are panicked that we know each other, that we love each other, that we as a community find unity and strength…”
Another drag performance, this time from Edwina Typhoon. Due to music rights issues the video can only be viewed on YouTube:
Nwando Ofokansi, board member of Rebuild Woonsocket:
Charmaine Webster, board member of Rebuild Woonsocket:
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