June 29, 2022

Taurean Bethea, organizer of Springfield’s first Pride Parade, says the city is more welcoming to the LGBTQ+ population

SPRINGFIELD – Taurean Bethea has spent his career planning events and corporate functions.

It turns out that very little of this translates directly to planning Springfield’s first Pride Parade on a one-mile route through a downtown core, coordinating hundreds of marchers and dozens of volunteers, vendors, floats and food trucks, and the reinforcement of thousands of spectators to line the route.

Bethea, the organizer of Springfield’s inaugural Pride Parade on Saturday, June 4, said planning had been underway for more than a year and needed virtually every second. During that time, he said, he learned how badly he didn’t know how to plan a parade.

Initially, he thought his experience as an event planner would give him a leg up.

“I actually thought ‘I can put this together really quickly,'” he said during a recent interview with The Republican.

“But no, a parade is not possible to set up very quickly.”

There were infinitely more signatures needed from different agencies, many more boxes to tick and more T’s and I’s to cross and tick respectively, and thousands of logistical details to sort out. Permission was needed not just for the parade route itself, but to close any streets along that route, he said.

Planning a single function at one location, like his multicultural New England Noir wine festival in Southampton, is much easier than planning a parade, he said. “Being still is easier.”

The city’s first Pride Parade will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 4 from the Springfield Technical Community College campus. It will run down State Street to Court Square, where a block party is scheduled from noon until 5 p.m.

There are 27 separate continents parading, with at least 20 people in each, plus floats and entertainment. Organizers expect between 10,000 and 15,000 people to line the parade route and attend the block party, but Bethea says she herself is one of the big unknowns.

There’s no way of knowing until that happens, he said, but projected attendance “could be low.”

The last Northampton Pride parade in 2019 drew around 35,000 people to this city.

The Northampton parade was again canceled this year, as was the Boston parade, due to the pandemic. Springfield will be the only major city in Massachusetts to host a Pride parade in June, he said.

It’s hard to say how it will turn out, he said, because an inaugural all means there’s nothing to compare.

As Bethea said, “we’re building the plan.”

When constructing that plan, Bethea said the decision was made to aim high, like in the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” he said.

“On the production side, our focus is Macy’s,” he said. “Let’s start there and then scale back.”

“We have walkers, we have tanks, we have vehicles, we have dogs. We have some cool mid-term performances,” he said.

“The response has been amazing and I can’t wait to see the final product.”

He said the biggest surprise of the Pride Parade since its announcement a year ago has been the welcome and acceptance of everyone – from corporate sponsors and city officials to everyday people in neighborhoods – has been.

The reception was, he said, “surprisingly impressive”.

“It’s almost like people are expecting something like that,” he said.

The event has many sponsors, so many that it is impossible to list them all. Presenting partners for the event are Massachusetts Mutual, the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services, STCC and the City of Springfield.

Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said the Pride Parade was “another first for our beloved city,” and said his administration was proud to work with Bethea and the Springfield Pride organization to get there.

“A good person is a good person, regardless of creed, color, origin, sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said. “As a longtime member of Mayors Against LGBTQ Discrimination, I am proud to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ community to remind everyone that each of us deserves the same level of equality and respect.”

He praised Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Advocate Talia Gee in particular for working with organizers to make it a successful event.

“We can welcome everyone to the first Springfield City Pride Parade,” he said. “Only by respecting and loving one another can we create a better city and community.”

Turean Bethea, Springfield Pride Parade organizer

Bethea, 39, is a Springfield native and a 2000 graduate of Putnam Vocational High School which returned to the city less than a year ago.

He said he moved after high school in part because when he looked around Springfield at the time, he saw nothing resembling a community for an 18-year-old black gay man.

“When I was younger, I didn’t see any LGBTQ presence here at all,” he said. “As a teenager, I just thought…it didn’t exist.”

He eventually landed in New York, which has a much more vibrant LGBTQ community across all facets of culture and “a part of everyday life.”

When he returned to Springfield permanently in September, he found the town had changed since he left.

“I saw a change with the city moving forward, becoming more innovative,” he said.

This new Springfield had a different energy to the one he left after high school, and “cool things” were starting to happen, he said.

He said he thinks a Pride parade would be welcomed as there is more LGBTQ+ presence in the city than before. But there’s also what he called a spirit of innovation that’s beginning to blossom in the city.

One of the reasons for a Pride Parade in Springfield, he said, is to show LGBTQ+ youth that times are different, that there is a supportive community, and that they don’t have to. not to feel alone.

“Our goal is to start conversations and help people understand why individuality is so important and inclusivity is so important,” he said. “Especially for young people. No child should have to grow up feeling like they don’t have a community.

In the easier days of the Northampton Pride Parade, it is documented that some of the mid 1980s marchers wore bags over their heads to conceal their identities.

Bethea said times had changed culturally and he didn’t expect walkers to need to. But, make no mistake, he said, there are teens and young adults who still feel the same anxiety about hanging out with family and friends and facing ostracism. .

“There are a lot of students who want to participate but can’t,” he said. “It’s not as extreme but it still metaphorically covers their face because they can’t be a part of it.”

Bethea said when he was out with his family, they were okay with it, but he said he knows that’s not always the case.

The idea for the parade originated as far back as 2017 when Bethea came out publicly after someone wrote something about her on social media. The comment was along the lines of “Turean must be out already”.

Bethea said the comment surprised him at the time. “I thought I was ‘out’. I didn’t know I needed to make a grand statement because I was living it.

He said the more he thought about it, the more he thought about people living in different circumstances, especially teenagers in his hometown, who feel the need to stay hidden for fear of being ostracized by family and friends.

“All these kids who have to live in the closet and who are dealing with depression and suicide.”

The parade was an outgrowth of this desire to return to Springfield and show LGBTQ youth that they are not alone.

“If I can show who I am and live my life, someone can see me and say it’s okay,” he said.

He said when he came out he was supported by his family and most, but not all, of his friends.

His mother, Sylvia Bethea, is president of the Springfield Pride Parade, a 501(c) nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the city’s LGBTQ+ youth.

Bethea said he remembered when he told his sister he was gay, he said nothing about him or their relationship needed to be any different.

“I told my sister that I wouldn’t change. I was not going to wave flags and march in parades,” he said.

“I was absolutely wrong.”

A year ago, on June 1, Bethea participated in the first-ever flag-raising ceremony at Springfield City Hall to mark the start of LGBTQ+ Pride month.

Another flag raising is scheduled for Wednesday, June 1, and he intends to attend.

Raising the flag, like the parade, is a symbolic gesture that means a lot.

” It’s a big problem. It is representation. It’s seeing yourself represented,” he said.

While it’s exciting to be days away from the finish line in freshman, Bethea said it comes with the understanding that the race never really ends. The first year leads to the second year, and so on.

He plans to start working on the 2023 edition of the Springfield Pride parade almost immediately. Next year’s parade isn’t going to plan itself.

“I want to have maybe two days off,” he said.