At the urging of a local mom, Rhinebeck and Red Hook will join forces for the first time this year to create a Gay Pride celebration for Northern Dutchess County.
The event, to be held Sunday, June 11, will be hosted by the congregation of Rhinebeck’s Episcopal Church of the Messiah and its openly gay priest, the Rev. Richard McKeon. Area members of the LGBTQIA+ community this week applauded the event.
“The arrival of a Gay Pride Celebration to the Rhinebeck-Red Hook communities is both a small thing and a very big thing,” said Peter Amendola, who has lived in the Rhinebeck area with his husband, Jerry Pagliari, for more than 20 years. “Small, because it is yet another Pride celebration and such events are not uncommon. Big, because we have entered an era when human rights are once again threatened.”
The mother who spurred the celebration concurred. “It’s important to go out and support places that already have established Pride traditions, like Poughkeepsie, Kingston, and Hudson,” she said. “It’s also important to start Pride traditions in places that don’t, like Rhinebeck and Red Hook. The LGBTQIA+ communities, all marginalized communities, deserve to feel celebrated and accepted by their own towns.” The woman asked that The Daily Catch not identify her for safety reasons.
The new event comes amid nationwide attention to transgender rights and issues, especially involving youth. Indeed, the combo community celebration, according to Rhinebeck Mayor Gary Bassett, came together after the mother approached him roughly six weeks ago and suggested a Gay Pride parade that would move through roads in Rhinebeck that are controlled by the state. Logistics proved too difficult to arrange, so Bassett suggested the mother contact McKeon.
“I believe we need to support diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of life in the village,” said Bassett, who is serving the first year of his fourth two-year term. “We all need to support one another.”
The mother said she and others have been working on the event for several weeks, working through myriad details with Church of the Messiah, known not only for its gay leader but for its embrace of persecuted populations. The idea, McKeon said, “resonated with the church’s own values of inclusion, welcome, and unconditional celebration of people as they are.”
The Rhinebeck event, which is being organized in part with businesses and organizations based in Red Hook and Tivoli such as Four Corners Community Farms, Thrift2Fight clothing store, and the Red Hook Community Center, joins other events in such Hudson Valley communities as Poughkeepsie, Hudson, Kingston, and New Paltz.
Among the luminaries to participate Sunday will be Bishop Mary Glasspool, the first avowed lesbian bishop in the Anglican Communion, who will share her personal experiences and kick off the day’s events at the church. Glasspool is now an assistant bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
While located on the grounds of the Church of the Messiah, the day’s events will not include a religious service but rather words of affirmation and a “gathering in celebration,” McKeon said. All of the events, Bassett said, will take place at 6436 Montgomery, which is also widely known in the region for its 1897 Louis Comfort Tiffany window depicting Christ’s Ascension.
“I was called to the parish as an openly gay man, and we have had an unequivocal stance in support of LGBTQIA+ people since,” added McKeon, who has led the church since 2010. Because Church of the Messiah has a spirited LGBTQIA+ presence, McKeon added, “Every time the Church of the Messiah gets together, it’s a celebration of Pride.”
The motivation to extend a gesture towards youth coming to grips with their homosexuality resonated with McKeon, who recalled the isolation he felt growing up in Westchester County in the early 1970s, knowing he was gay. “I had no idea there were even other gay people in the world,” said McKeon, who attended Yale Divinity School. “I had no vocabulary, and certainly no context of support… There is a power in seeing a gathering of people who identify as members of that community.”
Amendola, too, recalled what he called the “long and winding road” to self-acceptance after realizing, ever so slowly, how large the minority of gay people is. “When I first came out in my early twenties, I thought I was part of a very tiny group – like folks who have one brown eye and one blue eye,” he said. “It was only through my own personal stamina and the serious courage of others, that I learned that there were many like me. I was not alone, and I indeed deserved respect and equality.”
In prior years, the people of Rhinebeck and Red Hook, McKeon said, have participated in neighboring Pride events like the annual Pride Parade in New York City, which this year takes place on Sunday, June 25. However, McKeon said that he hopes the events on Sunday will allow the people of Rhinebeck and Red Hook to celebrate Pride with their own neighbors and friends without having to travel.
Amendola also noted with disappointment that words inscribed at the Statue of Liberty — “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” wrote poet Emma Lazarus in a sonnet — are not always honored in communities outside New York’s big cities. He said that gay, transgender, Black, Brown, Jewish, and Muslim people are all under attack. “Upstate New York has not been anxious to welcome non-white, non-heterosexual communities,” Amendola added.
Local leaders concurred with the importance of a local celebration. “Local is crucial even in a national movement,” said Mat Zucker, a gay man who lives in Tivoli with his husband of 21 years. “It’s where our rights and our dignity are tested every day. We can’t feel safe or confident by watching from afar. We have to feel safe at the diner, at the post office, at the town parade.” Zucker is also the creator of the award-winning Cidiot podcast.
Straight members of the community have also expressed support. “While Gay Pride is celebrated in many large cities, acknowledging the people connected by family, friendship or general support, on a local level is an opportunity to come together to celebrate diversity and a hard-fought, hard-won struggle for human rights,” said Melinda Fishman, who lives with her husband, Andy Jones, in Milan. “In a country where ‘Don’t Say Gay’ makes headlines, where attacks on people seen as different take many forms, it’s important to normalize and celebrate diversity at every opportunity.”
McKeon said that anti-gay rhetoric has also been heard more frequently in Washington, D.C. and in many state legislatures since the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement took hold during the 2015 -2016 election campaign of former president Donald Trump. Mindful of these figures and trends, McKeon said he feels it is important to create an intentional celebration that reflects the values of what he believes is a majority of the Red Hook and Rhinebeck communities. “We wanted there to be a response, an accessible and visible positive voice, to counter the fundamentalist homophobic voice that is only too often heard in many denominations,” McKeon said.
Bassett said that he has heard objections to the idea of a local Pride event from no more than two people. “It was nothing that would slow down doing the right thing,” he said.
Nationally, the Episcopal church since the 1970s has been “unequivocal in its support of LGBTQIA+ communities,” McKeon noted. In 2003, the Episcopal church’s first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, was elected bishop coadjutor, essentially the assistant bishop, in New Hampshire.
The news of the shared Rhinebeck-Red Hook celebration comes as the transgender community has also faced attacks nationwide. This year, a variety of bills at the state level aim to restrict access to healthcare, student athletics, education, and the military for transgender people. So far this year, some 80 anti-transgender bills have passed at the state level, according to the Trans Legislation Tracker. “We want to stand up in support of the trans community because their rights are so vulnerable,” McKeon said.
The Rhinebeck-Red Hook celebration will take place in collaboration with a variety of organizations in the two towns and across the Hudson Valley region. Among them: Starr Library’s traveling bookstore, the “Book Bike”; Trans Closet of the Hudson Valley, which provides clothing to transgender individuals; Thrift2Fight in Red Hook, a thrift store that donates a portion of its profits to social justice initiatives and as co-founded by a transgender individual; The Red Hook Community Center; the Hudson Valley LGBTQIA+ Center; Four Corners Community Farm in Red Hook; The O-Zone in Red Hook, a retail store and compost center selling eco-friendly products; Megabrain Comics of Red Hook; Dutchess Pride Center; the Rhinebeck Democratic Committee; and the 91st Sojourners, a co-ed scouting group in the Hudson Valley.
Sam Rose, co-founder of Four Corners, said the event aligns with his farm’s mission. “We want to show our support and celebrate the diversity of individuals who call our region home,” Rose told The Daily Catch. “Acceptance and respect of people’s personal lifestyles are in alignment with our community-building mission.” Four Corners, he said, will host an activity table at the event.
Thrift2Fight plans to set up a clothing swap, at no charge, for children and adults and invites residents to bring clothes available for trade. “It’s an incredible feeling to watch kids and grownups alike play dress up for fun, outside of restrictive and normative expectations,” said Masha Zabara, co-founder of Thrift2Fight, based in Tivoli. “This swap will be a judgment-free zone where the most important thing is to find a style that suits everyone’s self-expression best.”
For his part, McKeon has a history of activism and Pride organization. From 1995 until the early 2000s, he was in charge of the Episcopal Diocese of New York’s presence at the city Pride Parade. In 1994, he headed a committee at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City that commemorated the 25th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots.
Even as a much younger man, McKeon said, he led demonstrations to support gay rights and speak out against anti-gay violence. For instance, he recalled projects he organized following the 1988 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming who was brutally beaten and murdered in what prosecutors argued was a premeditated anti-gay hate crime.
The festivities Sunday will open with a community gathering at the church. That will be followed by a picnic, music performed by DJ Eli Soul Clap, and activities and crafts sponsored by local organizations. A raffle also is planned.