Maine High School Students Save Pride Parade and Festival

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BELFAST, me. – Situated at the mouth of the Passagassawakeag River estuary on Belfast Bay and Penobscot Bay, Belfast is a coastal city of 6,938 people and the county seat of Waldo, 81km south-west of Bangor. The city has been considered an important tourist destination for the region over the years due to its old buildings, historic neighborhoods, theater and arts, delicious cuisine, and opportunities to get out in nature. This year it will be a destination for LGBTQ+ Mainers to celebrate Pride – thanks to dedicated high school students.

Maine’s state motto is “Dirigo” which is Latin for “I lead” or “I lead”. In keeping with this spirit, The Bangor Daily News reported that when no adults revived the community pride parade in Belfast, a group of motivated Belfast area high school students stepped up to ensure the he event – which was on pandemic hiatus – is happening this year.

The city’s first-ever Pride parade and festival took place in 2016 and has become an annual tradition. But no adult organizers have come forward this year to carry on the tradition, the newspaper reported.

Enter the members of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, which formed at Belfast Area High School eight years ago. According to the Daily News, 17-year-old Willa Bywater, chair of the school’s GSA, decided that keeping Pride alive, especially after the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns and isolation, was a critical need not just for Belfast’s LGBTQ+ community, but others too.

Bywater and his 20 fellow club members obtained permits from the City of Belfast, found sponsors, raised money for banners, flags and other expenses, and struggled to obtain liability insurance. In the end, the high school agreed to cover the event as part of school policy, a decision that surprised and delighted the teenagers, Annie Gray, the club’s co-counsellor, told the Daily News.

Bywater noted that organizing the parade took a lot of work, but it was worth it.

“I think this is the Pride Parade for Waldo County, and it feels really important,” she said. “After all these years of COVID, it’s important to remember that we’re all still here and moving on.”

The students found support from local businesses, the Daily News also reported.

Seth Thayer, a local businessman who was delighted that the high school students took the initiative to organize the event and that it is happening again this year. There’s something special about the way rainbow flags fly from homes and businesses across the city during Pride, he told the newspaper.

“What I love about Pride is that the whole city is involved,” he said. “It’s such a feeling of isolation to have to hide. And just to see that visual support from people you don’t know, just to see the Pride flag, that’s a powerful thing. I’m glad that’s happening.

Thayer said he was happy to make a financial contribution to the students, who asked for donations.

“I’m really glad the high school kids took it up,” he said. “I think they will do a good job. Children always bring new energy to things.

Those interested in taking part in the Belfast Pride parade are asked to arrive at Belfast Area High School at 10.30am on Saturday 4th June and the parade will start at 11am. The parade will end just before the Public Landing and Heritage Park.

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