Report by Paula Antolini
April 23, 2017 4:24PM EDT
Photo: Bethel Middle School students, Hailey Gesler (left) and Marcella Antunes, whose social awareness school project produced the first Bethel LGBTQ Pride Parade today, April 23, 2017.
BETHEL ADVOCATE / LIVE COVERAGE ON THE SCENE
VIDEOS/PHOTOS: Two 12-Year-Old Bethel Students Promote Social Awareness with First LGBTQ Pride Parade in Bethel, April 23rd
Were You “Spotted” at Bethel’s LGBTQ Pride Parade? Check Out the Bethel Advocate Videos and Photos!
A short but mighty, first LGBTQ Pride Parade in Fairfield County took place on April 23, 2017, in Bethel, CT, under a beautiful sunny sky and warm temperatures, at 1:00 p.m., beginning at P.T. Barnum Square, turning left on School Street and ending at the CJH Municipal Center Lawn with more festivities.
Photo: The LGBTQ Pride Parade begins with Molten Java leading the way,on April 23, 2017 in Bethel, CT.
A few hundred people attended today’s jovial affair, made possible by two 12-year-old Bethel Middle School students, Hailey Gesler and Marcella Antunes. They decided to take a social awareness project to the next level, in a class taught by BMS Language Arts teacher Mrs. Rinas, and they created Bethel’s first LGBTQ Pride Parade, with the help of Hailey’s Mom, Alexis Wilson, who said, “When I look at my children I see the change that I wish for in this world … with the things we have seen in our lifetime, I am so glad to know that we’re raising tomorrow’s world, tomorrow’s leaders, tomorrow’s Moms and Dads, and I am so thrilled to know that her future is full of love and acceptance.” Gesler’s Mom also offered a moment of silence for Gilbert Baker, gay rights activist and designer of the LGBT rainbow flag, who died on March 31, 2017.
Photo: Owner of Molten Java in Bethel, CT, Wendy Pinko Cahill (right, with friend) who lead the LGBTQ Pride Parade on April 23, 2017.
Photo: Bethel First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker with wife Adrienne and their dog Sergio, at the LGBTQ Pride Parade in Bethel, CT, on April 23, 2017.
First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker was at the event with his wife Adrienne and their dog Sergio. Knickerbocker said, “I am so proud that this came out of this little town in Connecticut and I couldn’t be prouder about this. And I want to congratulate Marcella and Hailey, and Hailey’s Mom Alexis, this is because two 12- year-old girls from Bethel Middle School believed that everybody is equal, everybody has the right to love whom they want to love, and that is just such a powerful message today. So congratulations to them and congratulations to everybody who came out today to support them.”
Photo: Hailey Gesler (left) and Marcella Antunes before the start of the LGBTQ Pride Parade in Bethel, CT, on April23, 2017.
View video of parade PART 1 here:
View video of parade PART 2 here:
View video of parade, going down School Street in Bethel, CT, PART 3 here:
View video of parade, leading to CJH Municipal Center lawn, PART 4 here:
View video of parade celebration, PART 5 here:
View video of parade celebration, PART 6 here:
View video of parade celebration, PART 7 here:
BMS students Gesler and Antunes said they thought that “people were being discriminated against an they didn’t want anyone to feel bad,” and that they mostly saw discrimination on television, they said, so they decided to choose the LGBTQ topic for their school project.
They began by getting the necessary permits via the First Selectman’s office, whom they said welcomed the idea.
View video of Hailey and Marcella discussing their project here:
View speech of Hailey Gesler at the celebration here, part 1:
View speech of Hailey Gesler at the celebration here, part 2:
View speech Marcella Antunes at the celebration here, part 1:
View speech Marcella Antunes at the celebration here, part 2:
View video of First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker here:
Photo: Hailey Gesler and Marcella Antunes with their “Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition” from the office of Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, at the ceremony after the LGBTQ Pride Parade on April 23, 2017.
Hailey and Marcella were presented with a “Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition” from the office of Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, in honor of their community leadership and commitment to LGBTQ rights.
View receipt of awards to Hailey Gesler and Marcella Antunes from Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty’s office here:
Photo: Chris Avery Bennet in the gazebo of the Bethel, CT, CJH Municipal Center, after speaking at the LGBTQ Pride Parade on April 23, 2017.
Special guest speaker was Newtown, CT, resident Chris Avery Bennet, who is known for his heavy red carpet presence in NYC, especially front row at NYFW, celebrity interviews and promotions around the globe, his unique rooftop NYC parties, and for his famous Make A Difference Blog. He is also active in the LGBTQ and anti bullying.
When Avery Bennet was approached by “the unstoppable mother and daughter duo,” as he referred to them, he said yes before even knowing the details of the project. “The very first thing I told them was to expect this [event] to become much bigger than they thought,” Avery Bennet said. “Obviously, it is.”
Starting at 14-years-old, he said, Reaching around the globe with my message of acceptance, love and community, the occasional teenage hormonal rant mind you, I clearly came out of the closet full speed ahead.”
“A quote even from one of my unique high school friends,” Avery Bennet said, “Chris you never cared about what anyone ever thought of you, and you have never been afraid to be exactly who you are, to the fullest. You most definitely gave Newtown High a run for their money too.”
“And that I did,” said Avery Bennet.
He continued, “I did not have an easy time in high school. I had, believe it or not, a group of kids a year ahead of me, that were very, and to this day, LGBTQ, make an admirable effort to bully and torment me through every single day in school and online. I had even sustained injuries from things being thrown at me from speeding cars and once even had a chemical bomb blown up in my mailbox. This did not stop me.”
“I had my assistant principal, at the time, currently harrassing me and other LGBTQ students, and many of us were even denied the chance of going to prom with a same-sex partner unless we concented to signing some proof of gay,” Avery Bennet said.
“Naturally none of us went to prom,” Avery Bennet said.
“I was even told by the same assistant principal that I was never going to go anywhere in my life and the things that I was doing and stood for were not important,” Avery Bennet said. “This did not stop me.”
“Even today I get people in and out of the community, hitting on who I am as a person, telling me to cut my hair, take off the make-up, and go to the gym. These days I only have one thing to say to these comments. Actually I lied, two. My gender clearly states masculine for masculine, so I’m not really sure what you’re talking about,” Avery Bennet said. “And … (singing) You don’t own me, Don’t try to change me in any way.”
No I’m not telling you these stories about some truly horrible moments in my life for pity or negative emotions. These are the moments when I not only proved myself to the world, I proved to myself, that I am LGBTQ, that I m stronger than any of the hate that has been thrown my way, and so are each and every one of you,” Avery Bennet said.
“It really does not matter if you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, genderfluid or nonconforming, pan [pansexual], demi [demisexual], or assexual, you are not alone and you never have been, ” Avery Bennet said.
View video of Chris Avery Bennet here:
(Avery Bennet video of speech coming shortly.)
Photo: First Congregational Church of Bethel Pastor Rachel Fay Beam (left) and Hailey Gesler’s Mom Alexis.
First Congregational Church of Bethel Pastor Rachel Fay Beam spoke at the event and said, “I honor the spirit of love and inclusion that brought all of us here. We are here today because to brave, fierce young women woke up one morning and decided that they were going to change the world, and I honor the spirit of love that gave them the courage to move forward.”
“And brave Mom Alexis who made the choice to support her daughter in the most awesome way imaginable. This is how we change the world, one act of love at a time,” said Pastor Rachel Fay Beam.
“I am here today because I believe fully and completely that God is love and that we are all created in the image of God and no one, no one, stands outside that love. Because I’m Christian I follow Jesus, the one who included all people, blessed all people, and reminded those in power, both religious power and political power,that we all belong inside the circle of love. I’m here today as a straight ally to stand with you in this moment. I’m here today because I stand in love,” Pastor Rachel Fay Beam said.
Pastor Rachel Fay Beam offered a prayer:
Holy one you created each one of us in your image,
And each one of us is a shining reflection of all that is good and beautiful and wonderful in this world,
Bless this gathering of wonderful, beautiful, kindred spirits this day, Holy God,
Remind each person here of their intrinsic value and worth in your eyes,
Remind us that we are kin with one another,
Remind us that we are connected, one to another,
Lift up each one of us, so that we may in turn lift up one another.
Help us to receive and know your blessing so that we may bless one another.
These are your precious children, loving God, right here together in this place.
May we always treat one another with kindness, knowing that it is so.
VIEW MORE PHOTOS BELOW:
(Click on all photos to view larger.)
Festivities after the parade:
Speeches in gazebo:
Waiting for the parade to begin: