Southington Pride events face opposition from some residents

Southington Pride events face opposition from some residents

reporter photo

SOUTHINGTON — The town’s involvement in gay pride events this month, including a rainbow flag raising at the municipal center, prompted a vigil last weekend by those opposed to gay marriage.

Some residents also concerned about what they view as the town’s support for the gay and transgender movement spoke at a Town Council meeting.

Both Southington Pride and vigil organizers said the two groups were respectful during downtown gatherings last Saturday. The two groups were across Main Street from one another.

Town green vigil

The town’s first gay pride events started in late May and ended last weekend. In addition to the rainbow flag raising, events included painting rainbow colors on the Main Street crosswalk near the town green and family events at the YMCA’s Camp Sloper.

Tom Berrill, a retired respiratory therapist, said news of the events led him to organize the prayer vigil.

Berrill said the vigil was for those supporting marriage as between a man and a woman as well as those who believe children’s gender issues should be up to parents, not the school system.

Changing definitions of the family and gender is “very detrimental to the whole society, the whole culture,” Berrill said. He was also concerned about the early sexualization of children and the drag queen story hours that were part of the pride events.

About 100 people gathered for the vigil, according to Berrill. It included talks by local residents and area clergy.

That morning, Southington Pride was holding its rainbow flag raising at the John Weichsel Municipal Center down the road. Mitchell Olivia, a pride organizer, said they then went to the First Congregational Church downtown, which hosted educational panels.

“It was very peaceful, there were no negative interactions,” he said.

Pride events have been hosted or received support from a number of religious organizations in town. A rainbow flag raising and prayer service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church helped kick off events two weeks ago.

The panels at First Congregational were designed for people who were curious about gay and transgender issues, Olivia said, and more are planned. He said the vigil didn’t impede the pride events.

“Everybody is able to express their beliefs and their views, and that includes people who may be opposed. That’s 100 percent,” he said. “Everybody has the right to be able to express their beliefs.”

Mark Palmieri, a pride group organizer, said both groups did a “lovely job of respecting each other.”

“We hope that every member of our community can safely and comfortably meet and support each other and we respect that other groups need to do the same even if we don’t share the same viewpoints,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we can’t be civil.”

Town involvement

In February, the Town Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting non-heterosexual residents. It committed the town to treating all residents equally and fairly regardless of sexual orientation.

Val DePaolo, a Town Council Democrat and Southington Pride committee member, supported the town’s involvement. Councilors represent all town residents, she said, and the town is increasingly diverse in a host of ways.

“I thought having a flag raising at the municipal center, the crosswalk (painting), I think those are all excellent things to do because it brings awareness,” DePaolo said.

She described the feedback as “overwhelmingly positive.”

“I think you’re always going to get pushback,” DePaolo said. “The pushback that we got was a smaller amount of people.”

Tom Lombardi, a Republican councilor, said the town allowed a private group to hold events. The pride group wasn’t forcing its beliefs on anyone and those in opposition could choose not to attend events.

“As long as the town sets policies that are fair, and doesn’t favor or create bias towards one group or the other, I think we’re doing a good job,” he said.

The flag raising was never voted on at the council level, Lombardi said, and while he didn’t have a problem with it he also understood objections.

“We’ve learned over the years that symbols can be taken the wrong way,” he said.

Mark Herron, a town resident who spoke to the council earlier this year, objected to the town supporting a position that he believed most in town would oppose.

“I’m sure it’s not the entire town that’s for this,” he said.

He attended Saturday’s vigil.

Y receives support, some criticism

Herron and others who attended the vigil said they were disappointed with the YMCA for hosting the Southington Pride family events that included drag queen story hours. Herron said the event would be disturbing and confusing for children. Hosting the event runs contrary to the YMCA’s founding as a Christian association.

Mark Pooler, YMCA executive director, said most of the reaction from members and the community was positive, although the reaction wasn’t unanimous.

“There have been handful of folks who have written letters or emails to me or my board of directors stating their dissatisfaction about the event,” Pooler said.

He met with Southington Pride leaders before the event to find out what it was about.

“This group, the Southington Pride group, was looking to provide a safe place to celebrate their lifestyle and what they believe in. It wasn’t, in our position, hurting any other members of the community,” Pooler said.

He said the YMCA’s mission was to be respectful and inclusive of all people, beliefs and lifestyles.

“That’s the environment that the YMCA is trying to promote,” Pooler said.

jbuchanan@record-journal.com203-317-2230Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

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