Alyssa Marie Cajigas Rivera Ortiz, development coordinator at the Center and Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of the Children of Marsha P. Johnson. Musician, organizer and fellow CMPJ Co-Director Erycka Ortiz is to her right. Lucy Gellman Photos.
Updated on Friday, September 22: Pride New Haven has been postponed to a later date due to predicted inclement weather. A full statement from the New Haven Pride Center is printed below.
A volunteer day planned with LGBTQ+ families and young children at its core. A drag queen story hour dedicated to increasing literacy—and tolerance—among New Haven readers of all ages. An afternoon of queer crafting and community block party that reaches back to an organization’s roots—all while charting its bright future in the heart of New Haven.
That news came from the New Haven Pride Center (NHPC) and City of New Haven Monday afternoon, as NHPC staff and board members, community partners and Mayor Justin Elicker gathered on the second floor of City Hall to launch this year’s New Haven Pride festivities. After last year’s celebration on the New Haven Green, Pride 2023 will take place September 18 through 24, with an hours-long downtown block party on Saturday.
Before Saturday, the lineup includes volunteering, drag queen story time, and a “Dining with Pride” Friday night on the town. Daniel Quasar’s Progress Pride Flag will also soon be flying on the New Haven Green. Monday, it draped City Hall’s podium in a bright rainbow of color, as if it was staring down the endless gray sky and heavy rain outside.
NHPC Learning Institute Coordinator Ala Ochumare-Harris and Executive Director Juancarlos Soto.
For Executive Director Juancarlos Soto and NHPC staff, it is meant to get back to the NHPC’s origins as a grassroots and service-oriented community center. It is also a triumph after an unexpected leadership transition and extremely trying 10 months for the Center. All of the events, as well as a forthcoming schedule, are available at the New Haven Pride Center’s website.
“This is about giving back to the community,” said Soto, who to cheers Monday shed his acting executive director title for an official, board-appointed and permanent leadership role within the organization. “We're such a welcoming city and we're like a light for the world, in many ways … we're very proud to be in New Haven.”
“New Haven residents, get out, show your values by participating in this event,” said Mayor Justin Elicker. “We stand ready as this city to support the Pride Center and the work that they do in many different ways. We should feel proud today and every day to live in our wonderful city.”
Monday, both city officials and community partners said they are excited for the week’s activities, which range from volunteering to fiery spoken word performances to a queer barbecue in East Rock Park. In particular, both Soto and Pride Co-Producer Laura Boccadoro praised A Place to Nourish Your Health (APNH), the New Haven Free Public Library, and the Diaper Bank of Connecticut for their partnership, which are all slated to continue well beyond Pride.
APNH Safe Space Coordinator Jovanni Cabanas.
The festivities begin on the 19th, and run through Sunday night. On Tuesday at 11 a.m., Pride Center staff and volunteers will head to the Diaper Bank’s 370 State St. headquarters in North Haven to pack menstrual and baby supply kits. On Wednesday, Queen Tiki Malone will host a drag queen story hour at New Haven’s Mitchell Branch Library at 4 p.m. On Friday, attendees can come out to “Dining with Pride” at Olives and Oil for a night of LGBTQ+ entertainment.
Then at noon on Saturday, Pride kicks into high gear on Orange and Crown Streets, close to the Center’s current home. As that section of the street welcomes drag performers, dancers, musicians, spoken word artists, small business owners and nonprofit vendors, LGBTQ-owned small business Strange Ways will host an LGBTQ+ mini-market and crafting fair at 151 Orange St.
“Black and Brown youth need us,” they said. “They need to hear our voices. They need to see the work that we do. And that is why we collaborate with our beautiful community members. It's all about moving from a place of love.”
“Come get your library card! All the cool kids are doing it," Quigley said. “Youth, all youth, especially youth in the LGBTQIA community, we are here for you at the library. And we are a safe space, another space you can turn to."
Currently, the library has a program through which residents of other Connecticut towns and cities can submit their library card to the NHFPL, and the library can add them to the system. In an interview earlier this year, City Librarian Maria Bernhey pointed to it as a way to expand information and access beyond New Haven’s physical borders.
While Monday’s tone remained upbeat, almost every speaker also noted the growing number of attacks on LGBTQ+ rights across the country and the globe. This year alone, the American Civil Liberties Union has tracked close to 500 anti-LGBTQ bills across the U.S., including two in Connecticut. From coast to coast, they include everything from restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors to proposed bans on drag performers.
Pride New Haven Co-Producer and New Haven Pride Center Communications Coordinator Laura Boccadoro.
It has left the Center thinking about new ways it can adapt, Soto said. As states enact new bans on gender-affirming care (and reproductive rights, which is also an LGBTQ+ issue), he is bracing for the Pride Center to become a sort of shock absorber, where staff members and volunteers are able to help welcome families fleeing policies that put their lives and the lives of their children directly at risk. In the past several months alone, he said he has heard from at least five families leaving states with new bans on gender-affirming care.
“This is escalating everywhere,” he added. Last week, Center staff heard from the colleague of a woman in Pakistan, whose family is hiding her because she is gay, and currently fears for her life.
Soto is looking at it as an open door to new partnerships, he said. Earlier this year, the Pride Center was helping a family relocate from Texas when they asked for diapers for their young children. Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, Soto said—the Center already has a food pantry, hygiene corner, rainbow library and clothing closet—but it did. Enter the new collaboration with the Diaper Bank.
"We want to be able to have as many resources as we can for our families that may be coming,” Soto said. “We have the food, we have the clothing, we have the hygiene products ... but diapers are harder to get. We believe in partnerships being two-sided, and sharing back and forth. It’s a great experience to have our folks, who donate their time with us all the time, also give back to another organization.”
Those new collaborations are one more reason to celebrate this week, he added. When Boccadoro was planning Pride, she watched Circle Care Center, the New Haven Health Department, Anchor Health Initiative, New England Donor Services, Fair Haven Community Health Center, Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, Blue Orchid, Long Wharf Theatre and others all emerge from the woodwork to help make it happen.
For Soto, that’s a vote for the Center’s future. He added that Pride isn’t just for June or September: it’s year round, and will continue well beyond this week.
“You know, it's been a rough 10 months,” he said. “There have been some incredibly hard moments in all of it—lots of chaos, but also lots of amazing moments as well. I've gotten to see the community rally behind us, and that's been beautiful. It's also been rough. But we're here.”
“For me, I’m excited,” chimed in Alyssa Marie Cajigas Rivera Ortiz, development coordinator at the Center. “Seeing the tough times that the Center has gone through over the last year and to be here at Pride this week and turning a new page in the history of the Center … it’s really exciting. And for me, it really signifies the start of a new beginning for us.”
On Friday afternoon, the New Haven Pride Center postponed its Pride celebrations due to predicted inclement weather. A full statement from the Center is below:
"It is with a sense of responsibility and a commitment to the safety and enjoyment of all our attendees that we must make a difficult decision. Due to the forecasted incoming rain and high winds, we have decided to postpone the New Haven Pride Block Party, originally scheduled for September 23rd.
While this decision was not made lightly, the safety of our community members, performers, vendors, and sponsors remains our top priority. We believe that rescheduling the event is the best course of action to ensure that everyone can celebrate with joy and without concern.
We understand the excitement and anticipation that surround the New Haven Pride Block Party, and we share that enthusiasm. Rest assured that we are actively working to secure a new date that will allow us to gather safely and create unforgettable memories together. We will announce the rescheduled date as soon as possible, so please stay tuned for updates.
We would like to take this moment to express our heartfelt gratitude to our incredible sponsors and community who have generously supported New Haven Pride. Your commitment to our cause and your dedication to creating a more inclusive community are truly inspiring. We are immensely thankful for your partnership."
For more from the press conference, watch the embedded video. A full lineup of events is available at the New Haven Pride Center’s website.