The first Woonsocket Pride celebration begins at 7pm tonight, June 28, at World War II Memorial Park (near 300 Social Street). Sponsored by Rebuild Woonsocket in coordination with Silence is Violence: 401, the Progress Report, the Not 1 More Campaign, the Milagros Project RI, the W.A.T.C.H. Coalition, and other LGBTQIA+ community members, the festivities celebrate the 52nd anniversary of Stonewall, and is part of a larger effort to raise awareness of the marginalization of certain communities within the city.
The organizers’ road to a festive Pride day was not without drama. Early in June, the rainbow flag was unfurled in the prominent position over Market Square. It appears that some city council members thought this was disrespectful to the veterans whose POW/MIA flag was taken down for the month of June to make way for the Pride flag, which was then taken down and moved to a less prominent location. "It’s been very devious and dishonest to manufacture this controversy in order to pit the veteran community and the LGBTQ community against each other. I also think it hasn’t been successful," Councilman Alex Kithes told Channel 10 News. A great deal of community support was demonstrated in signatures gathered on petitions to have the flag placed in its original location. In a display of defiance, and to show unity with the veterans, 114 American flags appeared at the site to represent the 114,000 soldiers who were dishonorably discharged after coming out as LGBTQ.
According to a Rebuild Woonsocket web page, “We originally planned this to be a joyous and mostly apolitical event, but after the amount of obstruction we've received from the city (and specifically the mayor's administration), we've added a march.” The march will start at River Island Park in Woonsocket at 6:30pm, and will proceed through downtown, arriving at World War II Memorial Park around 7pm, when the festivities will begin. Expect talented live local performers and powerful speeches from community leaders.
In an interview with Options this afternoon, City Councilman Alex Kithes confirmed that Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt has done her best to shut down the Pride activities scheduled to occur this evening. Councilman Kithes applied for the permit on June 14 for a June 21 deadline. He learned the park was clear for his event, and the check was cashed. He first learned that trouble was afoot Thursday, when he was informed that suddenly there would be construction happening in the park where the festivities were scheduled to happen, which was not previously on the city calendar. As he was securing a permit for a second location, he was informed that a car show was suddenly booked at that park, which had not previously been there. Undaunted, Kithes says the march will commence at River Island Park at 6:30pm. We were unable to reach the mayor for comment at press time.
Note: The last paragraph was added and the story title was updated on June 28 at 2:57pm.