Arts Paper | Arts Council of Greater New Haven

"We Ain't Going Nowhere:" Pride Center Faces Bomb Threat During Pride Week

Written by Lucy Gellman | Sep 23, 2023 9:05:00 PM

New Haven Pride Center Board President Hope Chávez, Executive Director Juancarlos Soto, and Communications Coordinator and Co-Producer of PRIDE New Haven Laura Boccadoro at the Center's 84 Orange St. offices on Saturday afternoon, after getting the all-clear to enter the building. Lucy Gellman Photo.

Updated Monday, Sept. 25, with a statement from Mayor Justin Elicker.

New Haven Pride's festivities had already been postponed due to inclement weather. Then came the bomb threat. Now, New Haven Pride Center staff and board members are doubling down on their commitment to visibility, service, and keeping the LGBTQ+ community safe. 

That news came to the Ninth Square early Saturday afternoon, after staff members at the New Haven Pride Center (NHPC) and New Haven Police Department both received a bomb threat targeting the Pride Center's 84 Orange St. headquarters. As of 1:42 p.m., New Haven Police and canines had searched the area for a bomb and determined the threat not credible. 

Police are now working with federal partners to trace the email, and are considering pursuing the threat as a hate crime. The email included right-wing conspiracy theories and defamatory and anti-LGBTQ language popularized by the Nazi Party during the first half of the 20th Century. A full statement from the New Haven Pride Center is at the bottom of this article.   

"The reality is, we ain't going nowhere," said NHPC Executive Director Juancarlos Soto, who yesterday made the decision to postpone this year's Pride New Haven block party after predicted wind and rain. "We're going to be here, and we'e going to continue to do the work we do. We are going to keep fighting and we will continue to be this beacon of light and hope in the community." 

Here's what happened, according to both Center staff and Asst. New Haven Police Chief David Zannelli. Saturday at 12:22 p.m., both Center Communications Coordinator Laura Boccadoro and Capt. Rose Dell received a bomb threat to the Pride Center via email. Boccadoro is also the co-producer of New Haven Pride; Dell until recently was the New Haven Police Department's public information officer.

Immediately, the New Haven Police Department sent in officers from its Hazardous Device Unit, including canines who are specially trained to smell explosive chemicals.  At that time, officers evacuated both the Center's building and the surrounding area. After searching the premises, Zannelli said that the Center and surrounding area was cleared around 1:42 p.m. 

"It's a crime," Zannelli said in a phone call Saturday afternoon. "That's the bottom line. It's a crime and it's a drain" on police and city resources that are already stretched.

Soto, who stepped officially into leadership this week (he served as the Center's interim executive director from November through earlier this month), said Saturday that he was feeling frustration, relief, and a resolve to amplify and grow the Center's work following the threat. If not for Saturday's soggy weather, the afternoon would have marked the Center's annual PRIDE celebrations in downtown New Haven. 

This year, the hours-long festivities were scheduled to unfold on Orange and Crown Streets, leading Soto and Boccadoro to believe that the threat was made to increase fear and discourage LGBTQ+ visibility on a day designed entirely around queer joy. Boccadoro, who had been on her way to a baby shower when she received the email, said that she is not so easily deterred—and neither is the organization that she works for. 

"It pushes us to work harder," she said, standing in the quiet of the Center's basement offices around 2 p.m. "This just gives us more momentum for our movement."   

Soto pointed to the number of social services the Center provides "for all New Haveners" who walk through its doors, including a size- and gender-inclusive clothing closet, food pantry, hygiene supplies, and growing LGBTQ+ book collection. When a person walks into the space, Soto said, Center staff never ask how they identify. They ask what they need.

There with staff, Board Chair Hope Chávez stressed that she sees Saturday's threat as a reminder that anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and violence can happen anywhere—even in a state that is perceived as very blue, or has pro-LGBTQ+ legislation on its books. She added that Saturday makes clear the need for a space that is the Center's own, with clear modes of egress for emergency situations. 

While there may be new fear following Saturday's incident, she added, the Pride Center will continue to build its mission in New Haven—including with a rescheduled block party later this fall. "We will not allow these people to win the mindset war," she said. 

On Monday, Soto and Mayor Justin Elicker released a joint statement, with a pledge that Daniel Quasar's Progress Pride flag would remain flying over on the New Haven Green until rescheduled Pride festivities in October. 

“New Haven is a welcoming and inclusive city where LGBTQ+ individuals can experience acceptance and belonging," it read. "While this act of hate is a stark reminder that LGBTQ+ individuals face adversity and discrimination every day, it only deepens our resolve to be a city that embraces all individuals regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity."

"An attack on the New Haven Pride Center is an attack on all of us, and we stand united and resolved towards building a city that is a beacon of belonging, love and hope for the LGBTQ+ community. The pride flag will continue to be raised on the New Haven Green until the New Haven Pride Block Party is rescheduled, and we look forward to joining our fellow New Haven residents in coming together to celebrate New Haven’s LGBTQ+ community."

"We’re also confident the New Haven Police Department, working with other law enforcement partners, will do everything they can to identify the individual who committed this act and hold them accountable for their actions.”

Saturday afternoon just before 5 p.m., the Pride Center released the following statement, reprinted in full below. 

"This morning, the New Haven Pride Center faced a distressing situation when we received an email containing a bomb threat. The staff and board of the Center share our heartfelt gratitude for the swift action of New Haven’s first responders. We want to assure everyone that both the New Haven Pride Center and the staff are safe, as are the rest of our neighbors on Orange Street.

While it is disheartening to witness such acts of hatred, it serves as a stark reminder that LGBTQ+ individuals across the country still face adversity and discrimination every day. However, let this be a testament to our resilience and strength. We refuse to be consumed by fear; instead, we choose to stand taller, united in our purpose.

At the New Haven Pride Center, our dedication to our community remains unshaken. We will not be deterred by the hate that may cross our path. Instead, we will persist in celebrating our beautiful LGBTQ+ community and fostering a sense of belonging and acceptance. Together, we will continue to work toward building a more inclusive community that shines as a beacon of hope and love.
Thank you for your steadfast support and commitment to our cause. If you are wondering what you can contribute at this moment, we invite you to continue supporting our events, do acts of generosity and kindness for an LGBTQ+ person, or help us in our efforts to move to a more secure location with a donation of any size. Together, we will overcome any obstacles in our path and continue to serve our community with unwavering determination.
We can’t wait to welcome you back to Orange Street for our rescheduled Pride Block Party! More information about the date + time in the coming weeks.
With love and solidarity,
The New Haven Pride Center Staff and Board of Directors"