CLAREMONT -- Four years after hosting the first LGBTQ pride festival in the Connecticut River Valley, Rural Outright coordinator Matt Mooshian received another validating sign of support on Wednesday, when roughly 50 or more community members showed up for a pride flag ceremony in Broad Street Park.

“I never expected to have this many folks come,” Mooshian said. “This is our third year doing a flag raising and this is the greatest turnout yet.”

Exactly four years earlier, Rural Outright, a youth-support organization based in Claremont, held the region’s first LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning) pride event at the Visitor Center Green in Claremont on Saturday, June 16, 2018. The event drew hundreds of attendees and soon inspired neighboring communities to organize LGBTQ pride events, as well.

“We saw Windsor in 2019 and now we’ve collaborated with them,” Mooshian said. “Rutland and White River are doing their own Prides. So that’s really cool to see it spreading.”

But Mooshian said he is nowhere near declaring a proverbial “Mission accomplished.”

“There is a lot of legislation that comes up federally as well as at the state level with language that (aims to) bar us from conversations about things like sexual identity, gender orientation or homophobia,” Mooshian said. “Which makes it sometimes hard to celebrate.”

Having a large turnout like this is encouraging and reaffirms to organizers about the importance of seemingly simple events like a flag ceremony.

“These folks here are seeing the flag go up and know that we see and affirm them,” Mooshian said. “Then they can go to their own networks and communities to spread their own message. And I really do think that it’s through those kinds of connections that we build and sustain change.”

After “raising” the flag -- which was technically an “unfurling,” since the pride flag was hung from the bandstand ceiling -- Mooshian gathered attendees and read aloud a city proclamation, signed by Claremont Mayor Charlene Lovett, recognizing the days of June 16-19 as Rural PRIDE 2021 “in support of the LGBTQ community.”

“The rainbow flag will be displayed (in the park), recognizing all LGBTQ residents whose influential and lasting contributions to our neighborhoods help make Claremont a vibrant community in which to live, work and visit,” the proclamation states.

In attendance were some members of the Claremont Democrats, who said they wanted to show their support to the LGBTQ community.

“Today I’m wearing my co-chair hat because it’s very important for people to recognize that Democrats share the values of equality,” said Liza Draper, who is also coordinator for Rainbow Confetti, a social and support group for students at Claremont Middle School.

“It's really great for students in the middle school and LGBT community to connect and grow strong together,” said Lynx Lee, a transgender student in the seventh grade at Claremont Middle School.

Lynx, whose pronouns are “they” and “their,” said they prefer to be called Elliot these days, though accepts that some people are still getting accustomed to that name.

Rainbow Confetti’s members also include student allies of the LGBTQ community who wish to show support for their peers, according to Lynx.

“The school shows so much support for the community, it’s unbelievable,” Lynx said.

Rural PRIDE 2021, which is combining events with Windsor, Vermont’s LGBTQ Pride Group, is hosting a hybrid of in-person and virtual activities this year as the region continues its cautious transition from the novel coronavirus activities.

The collaborative groups, who also held activities on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, will co-host a pair of in-person culminating events on Saturday to end Rural PRIDE week.

From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. there will be a PRIDE rally at the State Street Common in Windsor. Then, from 3 to 6 p.m. the organizers will host a PRIDE picnic at the Visitor Center Green in Claremont.

Mooshian said there will be some local vendors at the picnic, and that everyone is welcome to attend.

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