Darien Pride: Strides made since last year's Pride march

Attendees at last year's Black Lives Matter/Pride protest.

Attendees at last year’s Black Lives Matter/Pride protest.

Kate Dempsey / Contributed photo

Walking through downtown Darien and seeing Pride flags flying high and spotting rainbow lawn signs across town is an incredible, colorful reminder of love and equality.

The flags, which represent the spectrum of human sexuality and gender identities and diversity within the LGBTQ+ community, are encouraging and uplifting signs of hope. Each stripe of the flag holds meaning: orange is Healing, yellow is Sunlight, green is Nature, etc.

Flying the Pride flag is a sign of visible support and a powerful first step to acceptance in Darien’s first significant Pride celebration. It shows our community that there are allies and LGBTQ+ residents who will no longer be silenced, but who will instead be celebrated! This has not happened without incident as a Pride flag was stolen from Pear Tree Point Beach, but these intimidation tactics will not work. Flying Pride flags is a first step of many to ensure all our community members and those we love feel safe and comfortable walking down our streets, learning in our classrooms and having fun at our parks.

Although Pride Month has come to an end, we would like to reflect on the shift in town since last year’s Black Lives Matter/Pride protest and discuss the continued support that the Town of Darien and its residents can provide to the community.

We are a group of LGBTQ+ women who grew up in Darien and led the Black Lives Matter/Pride protest last year on June 28. We have subsequently been leading educational awareness about the LGBTQ+ community and Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities through our organization R.A.G.E.T.I.M.E. (Reform and Amend General Education to Teach and Integrate Minority Experiences) CT. Our growth over the last year has been exciting and full of energizing conversations, powerful events and thoughtful reflection. We held a community art show across Darien, hosted by the YWCA, YMCA, Darien Depot and Darien Arts Center, and we have hosted and participated in talks and discussion about topics from the history of Darien to how to be an ally with diverse communities across the town, county and state.

We envision education for every student in which Black history and the contributions of other minority groups are integrated into the standard curriculum for all subjects. We have loved connecting with those who share the belief that students must be afforded an intellectual, safe learning space where they are taught that anyone can invoke change. Additionally, as a community organization, we provide resources via our website and Instagram account in order to encourage dialogue and action around equality in education and opportunities for all.

Seeing rainbows across our town this June has marked an important shift for us; seeing local businesses and families being visibly supportive and open to the LGBTQ+ community has given us more hope that a more loving and accepting world truly is possible. We are happy to hear from the LGBTQ+ students and youth that have spoken up about the strides the town has made, and we have heard countless personal stories of feeling more accepted. We know what it is like to struggle with feeling accepted because of our sexual orientation or gender identity, of being scared to tell family members and friends in fear of being an outcast, and how difficult it can be to simply be different. To have a sign that says, “yes, you are welcomed here” is important and impactful.

The display of Pride flags across town is a great visual reminder of the town being a supportive space, but more must be done in order to convert the symbolism to action and create a more open, accepting and safe environment for the LGBTQ+ community in every month of the year. We know this work is crucial every time we see or hear of an incident in which people question or oppose who we are. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2021 is already the worst year in recent history for LGBTQ+ state legislative attacks, with at least 17 anti-LGBTQ bills enacted into law and a dozen more in the pipeline. In Darien, we must be vocal about the impacts of this “cruel effort to stigmatize and discriminate against LGBTQ people across the country, specifically trans youth who simply want to live as their true selves and grow into who they are.”

Severe emotional and physical harm to individuals in our community still happens, leaving many we know facing distressing conditions. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, LGBTQ+ youth and adolescents are more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide or have suicidal ideations. Being less happy at school and less connected to peers due to sexual orientation or gender identity can lead to repeated thoughts of suicide. Stress caused by prejudice, discrimination and stigma contribute to many LGBTQ+ people’s poorer mental health and increased difficulty with social interactions. The United States Department of Justice notes that LGBTQ+ discrimination lives in every part of society: schools, housing, workplaces, healthcare facilities, etc. The disparities are numerous, contributing to inequality at extreme levels. For example, Black transgender women specifically face the highest rates of discrimination, harassment and severe violence. Acts of hate and discrimination cannot continue if we want an egalitarian society.

All Darien residents and educators can take part in creating a more welcoming and supportive space. You can support the LGBTQ+ community by being an active ally, speaking out against hate to make it known we will not be intimidated. Learn about LGBTQ+ history and listen to queer voices to hear what kinds of support different people need. Stand up to bullying and discrimination when you see it, and feel empowered to say something even if you’re not sure exactly what to say.

As we wrote last year, this is about basic human rights: to live in a society where everyone is treated equally and not discriminated against. We would like to thank the many town officials and residents that have listened to LGBTQ+ voices and have taken action to support the community. The simplest way that Darien residents can be supportive is to stand together as one community with open minds and open hearts.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website at https://afsp.org/

For more information about R.A.G.E.T.I.M.E. CT and to check out our resources, visit www.ragetimect.com| Instagram @ragetimect | ragetimect@gmail.com.