Pride on Display in Needham

June 10, 2024
• Community organizations and leaders recognize Pride Month this June through words and action.

Needham may appear a bit more colorful this month as the town commemorates Pride Month, a celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer pride that began after the Stonewall Uprising in June 1969.

And in Needham, Pride looks like banners around the Town Center, LGBTQ+ book displays, an upcoming parade and more.

For the third concurrent year, the town hoisted “Needham Pride” banners up to recognize Pride Month. The effort, spearheaded by Needham Diversity Initiative board member Rebecca Young, offers a visual reminder of the community’s values: embracing diversity and creating an inclusive environment for all, she said.

As society speaks more openly about gender and sexuality, more people identify within the LGBTQ community, Young said, which is “really amazing and really powerful.”

“I think our mission is to lead Needham into being more welcoming to all,” Young said of NDI, “and that you do need those visual cues as people come through town, go to restaurants in town, drive through town, to show and share our messages of what we believe in as a town.”

Young, who is part of the LGBTQ community, raised thousands of dollars for the banners through the community. She, along with her wife and 18-year-old Needham High School graduate, attended the Boston Dyke March — a grassroots, non-commercial, political Pride demonstration — Friday night. Young has attended the event for nearly 30 years.

“That’s a really important piece of our community engagement, activism,” Young said of the march. “It’s where we go to fill up our own emotional bucket of going out into the world and remembering there’s lots of people that are really with and for inclusivity.”

At the Needham Free Public Library, readers can delve deep into LGBTQ books this Pride, with a range of classics to more modern titles. Over the last few years, Reference Supervisor Allison Smith said she’s seen an uptick in new releases with LGBTQ themes, which may be indicative of their popularity.

This month, Smith arranged a Pride-themed book display at the library for patrons. Included in the display are “How You Get the Girl” by Anita Kelly, 2024 release “You Only Call When You’re in Trouble” by Stephen McCauley and “Thunder Song” by Sasha LaPointe, an indigenous LGBTQ author. Smith said they aim to include voices with intersectional identities to illustrate the diversity of experience and background within the LGBTQ community. Smith personally recommends “A Marvellous Light” by Freya Marske, which mixes historical fiction, romance and fantasy.

While Pride Month shines a spotlight on the genre and the community, Smith said it’s more than a month.

“It’s a good opportunity for the library as a community member and a community space to make sure that we are letting people know that the library is for everyone,” Smith said, “and we want everyone to feel welcome here, both in the space itself but also in the stories that you can find.”

The library’s young adult section will also feature a book display containing classic novel retellings with LGBTQ twists. Volunteers also created Pride buttons that will be available this June, and young visitors can create their own rainbow felted pins Tuesday at 4 p.m.

LGBTQ residents and allies will take to the streets this Sunday for the third iteration of Needham Has Pride, described as a rally, march and party hosted by the First Parish in Needham and the Congregational Church. This year, participants will honor LGBTQ superheros of the past, First Parish Minister Rev. Catie Scudera said.

As part of its mission, First Parish features a welcoming congregation, composed of volunteers who strive for a more welcoming, inclusive space for congregants, specifically those within the LGBTQ community. First Parish and the Congregational Church display Pride visuals outside the month of March.

“You can see both our congregations have permanent, semi-permanent signage of rainbows, of the Progress Pride flag, to continue to demonstrate we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” Scudera said. “We don’t ascribe to theology that exclude LGBTQ people as inherently worthy, as children of God.”

The problem is not with the people, Scudera said, but with “anti-queer philosophy, theology and rhetoric.” First Parish recognizes Trans Day of Remembrance, held a name-changing clinic and recently celebrated a joint Easter and Trans Day of Visibility day, among other programs.

“There is a false impression nationally that religious people are homophobic or transphobic,” Scudera said, “and while that is true in certain segments of the country, in certain segments of religious expression, that is not the case when you’re talking about the United Church of Christ or Unitarian Universalism.”

The Needham Human Rights Committee conducts a complaint process, wherein residents can share a negative experience in an effort to gain a listening ear, find support and identify possible next steps to remedy the issue. In recent months, the committee has received numerous concerns from residents in connection with the conflict in the Middle East, Chair Tina Burgos said.

When it comes to incidents of intolerance or hate toward LGBTQ+, no one has contacted the HRC, Burgos said, but that’s not to say they don’t exist — sex- and gender-based bias and discrimination are extremely personal and “can really hit such a raw emotion,” Burgos said.

Part of the HRC’s mission is ensuring the community feels “safe, included and heard,” Burgos said. The committee embraces Pride and sees this month as a reminder to continue lending time, resources and support to the queer community, Burgos said.

“I think the onus is on not only the Human Rights Committee, but also the Town of Needham to make sure that we’re not just having dialogue about it, we’re taking action,” Burgos said, “and whatever action we’re taking doesn’t seem performative. It really has to mean something.”

The Select Board shared a Pride Month proclamation, in which members acknowledge the mistreatment LGBTQ youth face and that the town “is committed to ensuring that they are safe, valued, and supported.” The proclamation states that “Needham appreciates the rich tapestry of ethnic, cultural, racial, sexual, and gender identities of its residents.”

But while Needham is moving toward progress, more can be done, Young said.

“I love seeing Needham become a more diverse and more inclusive place, but we still have room to grow and areas to work at,” Young said. “I love that we’re a town that has its own Pride parade… I love seeing people come together to have conversation, to learn from each others’ stories. I think a lot of it is about building personal connections with people who are different from yourself, so that you can see the beauty in our diversity.”

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