Out & About: Bethel Pridefest brings big LGBTQ celebration to small town

  • Jamie Daniel, mother of Bethel Pridefest organizer Owen Daniel-McCarter, works to create paper flowers for the upcoming multi-day Pride celebration that runs Thursday, June 23, 2022, through Sunday, June 26, 2022. (Owen Daniel-McCarter photograph) Owen Daniel-McCarter photograph

  • Bethel Pridefest organizer Leonard Meek works on creating paper flowers for the upcoming, multi-day celebration that runs Thursday, June 23, 2022, through Sunday, June 26, 2022. (Owen Daniel-McCarter photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/18/2022 9:58:09 PM
Modified: 6/18/2022 9:57:48 PM

A multi-day Pride celebration will take place in Bethel next Thursday to Sunday.

The town joins Claremont, Windsor, White River Junction and Lebanon, which have all been the location of Pride celebrations. The number of events has grown since Rural Outright, part of TLC Family Resource Center, hosted its first Rural Pride event in 2018.

“I love it. I’m like, ‘The more the merrier,’ ” said Owen Daniel-McCarter, one of the organizers of Bethel Pridefest and co-owner of Babes Bar in Bethel. “I feel like visibility is so important especially when we know LGBT young people and adults are more at risk of not having family support, having barriers to accessing health care and other social supports.”

The celebration kicks off with a gay trivia event from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Babes Bar. On Friday from 6 to 9 p.m., there will be a Pride prom at Bethel’s White Church. At the Arnold Block on Saturday at noon there will be a family meeting for people who identify as LGBTQ+ and are sober, or seeking to become sober. A burlesque and drag ball on Saturday night at Babes Bar is already sold out and has a waitlist of 40 people. At 2 p.m. Sunday there will be screening of the film Pariah at Bethel Town Hall, followed by a discussion.

Daniel-McCarter and Pridefest organizer Leonard Meek had wanted to host a Pride event in Bethel for a few years. The inspiration came from a young person who used to serve on Bethel’s Equity and Inclusion Committee. Originally, the pair discussed doing a single event like a festival or parade, but branched out as they started discussing the idea with others.

“We decided we wanted to do more of a big event weekend, to come out in full bloom and have events that are tailored to (different) people’s interests,” Daniel-McCarter said.

Businesses and organizations throughout Bethel are contributing to Pridefest. When Daniel-McCarter and Meek put out a call for volunteers to make paper flowers for Pride prom, which has the theme “Bethel in Bloom,” 35 people showed up.

“We started putting this together and we really didn’t think it would be this big, but it’s great,” Meek said. “It’s really quite wonderful.”

A big focus of Bethel Pridefest is supporting LGBTQ+ youth. Meek, who has lived in Bethel for 12 years, grew up in New York City, where it was easy for him to connect with people who identify as LGBTQ+ and there were many events to attend.

“When I moved here I didn’t see anything for young people,” Meek said of LGBTQ-themed events in Bethel. “I want that for them.”

Pride prom is an important part of that goal. Some young people who identify as LGBTQ+ do not go to their high school proms, or if they do, they don’t not feel comfortable attending as their true selves.

“This is for them to be comfortable no matter what,” Meek said. “We’re here, we support you, we love you and we respect who you are.”

Pride prom also features a youth DJ, “Carti B”; a youth photographer; and a prom royalty ceremony.

Often, Pride events are held in bigger towns or cities. Some people, especially younger people, may be unable to attend those events because they can’t find rides.

“I want them to know the they are heard by the people in this town, by the people they know and love in this town,” Meek said.

In some ways, that mission has taken on even more importance this year as legislators throughout the country propose and pass bills that target people who identify as LGBTQ+, particularly as transgender.

“There’s also obviously a lot of anti-LGBT energy out there across our country, and so it just feels like a really important time to be even louder,” Daniel-McCarter said. “We’re here, we’re not going anywhere and we’re happy to be here. We just want to have a really celebratory vibe the whole weekend.”

People are already approaching the pair about what to do for Bethel Pridefest next year, and they hope to add more volunteers to their roster to assist with planning.

“Our goal is visibility,” Daniel-McCarter said. “Our goal is to make sure that LGBT people feel loved and celebrated and safe in our community and honestly just to have a really good time.”

Editor’s note: For more information, email BethelPRIDEFEST@gmail.com.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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