With the goal of fostering an inclusive environment based on acceptance and safety for all, Wilton Pride held its first official Wilton Pride Festival Saturday, June 10, on the Town Green.
“It’s just such a magic thing to be out here together and creating space where all of us are welcome,” said Rev. Marissa Rohrbach of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, which was among the participating groups.
Musical performances highlighted the festivities, with what organizers estimated to be around 250 people in attendance also taking part in craft activities and games. The Wilton Library hosted more events and activities in the afternoon, including a “human library” that featured members of the LGBTQIA+ community sharing their personal stories.
Last year, Trackside Teen Center hosted the first pride event in town thanks to four Girl Scouts who organized that effort. This year, with the official nonprofit designation of Wilton Pride, more local activities have been in the works, with this considered its first annual event.
Trackside was one of several civic organizations in Wilton that issued a statement of solidarity with Wilton Pride in accordance with the festival. They were joined by the Wilton Chamber of Commerce, the Riverbrook Regional/Wilton YMCA, Ambler Farm, Wilton Youth Council, Wilton Library and the Wilton Historical Society.
There were two scavenger hunt activities as part of the festival.
The first was the Adopt-a-Shop Scavenger Hunt. Leading up to June’s Pride Month, the Chamber of Commerce collaborated with Wilton Pride to showcase support for the LGBTQ+ community, pairing local businesses with community groups — families, faith institutions, sports teams, theater groups, Scouts, and others — to decorate storefront windows around town with rainbows and other Pride-themed decorations. Clues sent participants around town to look for items incorporated in the window displays of participating retailers. (The June 11 deadline to submit answers has been extended.)
The second search-and-find activity was the Find-the-Pallet Hunt, directing people to look for 11 rainbow-painted pallets scattered in unique locations in Wilton. Each pallet displayed a letter in the words ‘Wilton Pride.’ (This scavenger hunt continues on through June 30).
Trackside also hosted an evening film screening Saturday as part of the festivities.
“Our intention is to make people safe and to make them feel comfortable with who they are,” said Wilton Pride’s co-founder, resident Farah Masani.
The organization has begun working on a Connecticut oral history project in tandem with the library and the historical society.
“We have an opportunity to document our queer history,” Masani said. “This history has been squashed and stepped upon. That’s going to change.”
Some oral history participants also shared their stories Saturday afternoon as part of the library’s Human Library; among them were Jeffrey Busch and Stephen Davis of Wilton, a married couple who had to sue the state in order to gain the opportunity to marry years ago.
“The other towns have been doing this for years,” Davis said, glad that Wilton finally had a Pride event. “It feels like such a breath of fresh air, especially now.”
He and others shared about some of the dire experiences, attitudes and actions members of the LGBTQ+ community have faced recently throughout the country, including rights being revoked or denied, and harassment.
While Davis acknowledged that it presented some frightening prospects, he said these things shouldn’t be met with fear. Events where the wider community can show its support, as Wilton did on Saturday, can go a long way toward strengthening resolve.
“We want to give people hope and support,” he said, “and make them feel that change is still possible.”
State Sen. Ceci Maher presented a proclamation celebrating Wilton Pride, noting that sound mental health was directly linked to an individual’s ability to own and celebrate their identity without fear of judgment.
“When people aren’t allowed to be who they authentically are, it’s hard to navigate the world,” she said.
That was affirmed by Caitlin Witty, who grew up in Wilton and is now an openly gay singer in New York City who performed at the festival.
She said that Wilton can be a place where it’s hard for young people to be different in any kind of way, but this event acknowledges that differences exist and can be accepted and honored.
“I wish they had it when I was growing up,” she said.