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‘Pride means everything’

Aaron Gallo, a seventh-grader with the Saranac Lake Youth Center, poses during a fashion show at the first Tri-Lakes Pride Festival in Riverside Park on Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Lauren Yates)

SARANAC LAKE — More than 250 people gathered in Riverside Park at the first-ever Tri-Lakes Pride event on Sunday to celebrate their rights, dance in the sun and ensure they can keep those rights into the future.

The temperature rose into the high 80s, so after several hours in the hot sun, a “fan-off” was a welcome competition to cool down before a “dance-off” was in order to determine a winner.

Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance Executive Director Kelly Metzgar said the event was a time to honor elders in the LGBTQIA-plus community who fought for their right to exist, to celebrate their accomplishments and to look to the future. As Metzgar looked around at the many young people who were at the event, flying flags of numerous different genders and sexual orientations, she said they will grow up more free, more accepted and more safe than any generation before.

Still, Pride was held amid a broader national environment where legislative battles over transgender rights and sexual orientation seemed to be ramping up. This event was also held two days after a ruling by the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, worrying some people that some LGBTQIA-plus rights, like the right for same-sex couples to marry, may be overturned with similar legal arguments.

State Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, said he found the recent SCOTUS decision “shocking.” He told the crowd to not “rest easy” because in the Supreme Court, “they’re not done.”

Asa Geabody, who uses he/him and she/her pronouns, was dressed in his rainbow best at the first annual Tri-Lakes Pride Festival at Riverside Park on Sunday. Geabody moved from Pennsylvania to Keene last week, just in time to attend her first Pride event ever in Saranac Lake. Geabody came out as gay last year, so he hadn’t attended a Pride event before. (Enterprise photo — Lauren Yates)

“They are coming after our rights. They are coming after your rights,” Jones said. “They are coming after everything that we deem to be equal and inclusive.”

He said the ruling leaves long-standing rights like privacy, marriage equality and access to contraception all “on the table.”

“We don’t need the government in our bedrooms. We don’t need them in our medicine cabinets,” Jones said. “We should be able to decide for ourselves.”

He said to “protect basic human rights” people should “vote and advocate.”

Metzgar said she believes a minority of faith-based conservatives are trying to restrict LGBTQIA-plus rights, but she said the Bible says “love your neighbor as yourself,” “judge not, lest you be judged” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Venus, also known as Elle, twirls in a custom-made outfit during a fashion show at the first annual Tri-Lakes Pride Festival in Riverside Park. (Enterprise photos — Aaron Cerbone)

She said everyone was created with their own unique sexual orientation.

“You are loved”

Jericho Reigns, of Moores, is a volunteer with ANCGA and said events like Tri-Lakes Pride are important in rural areas to let LGBTQIA-plus people know that they are welcome to be themselves.

Seventh graders with the Saranac Lake Youth Center accept flowers onstage at Riverside Park after performing in a fashion show at the first annual Tri-Lakes Pride Festival on Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Lauren Yates)

“Pride means everything to me,” Reigns said. “It reminds everybody, ‘Hey, you are loved. You are accepted.'”

Reigns is a transgender woman. Sometimes it’s difficult to be queer in the North Country, Reigns said. Some people don’t accept who she is. Others “tolerate” queer people, but don’t truly accept them, she said. LGBTQIA-plus people want to be seen because they don’t want to hide. Bi, gay or trans people are just normal people, she said.

First Pride for some

Jaxxsinn does a split on stage at the Tri-Lakes Pride Festival in Riverside Park on Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Asa Geabody was dressed head-to-toe in rainbows as he walked around the park. He moved from Pennsylvania to Keene last week, just in time to attend his first Pride event in Saranac Lake.

“I came out last (June). I’ve never been to a Pride,” Geabody said.

He said he was still new to being gay in public, but it felt good to come out. Geabody said finding community on Sunday was comforting. He was happy to see his pastor, John Sampson, from the Keene Valley Congregational Church, at the park.

The event featured the debut performance of Juno Diamond, the drag persona of Aaron Gallo, 12, of Bloomingdale.

Gallo goes by they/them pronouns. They said they were glad to perform because they believe visibility of LGBTQIA-plus people is important.

Wilbur twirls in a Beetlejuice-inspired outfit during a fashion show at the first annual Tri-Lakes Pride Festival in Riverside Park on Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Lauren Yates)

Gallo was asked how they felt performing drag in front of their classmates. They said they were excited because they didn’t care about what people thought, and the people who were there on Sunday were those who are “super supportive.”

Most people are accepting of who Gallo is. They said they get a lot of compliments from classmates.

Gallo said they’ve been doing makeup since they were 9 and creating outfits since last year.

Last year, they saw an ad for the television show “Ru Paul’s Drag Race All Stars” and knew they wanted to do drag. Gallo hopes to compete as Juno Diamond on the reality show one day.

Gallo’s favorite queen from the show is Violet Chachki, and the influence of Chachki’s style of “vintage glamor” is evident in Gallo’s designs.

Aaron’s father, David, knows Aaron by he/him pronouns and David said he’s always encouraged Aaron to be comfortable with who he is.

“He’s been the way he is ever since he could walk,” David said. “I’ve been 100% supportive of him ever since I’ve known.”

David grew up in the Tri-Lakes, and he was worried at first. The gay friends he and his wife had back then all left because they were hiding who they were, he said.

“Since I was a kid until now, I’ve just seen a complete 360 on all of this, with acceptance of the LGBT community,” David said. “It’s great, because kids don’t have to hide.”

He said Aaron’s classmates have been surprisingly accepting.

David said he loves to raise his kids in an accepting place. He said he tells all of his children to “be who you want to be, just be a good person.” To Aaron, he says: “Be the best drag queen.”

Recently, several states have trying to ban children from attending drag shows.

“That is really sad to me,” Aaron said. “Because there are places like this where it’s completely child-friendly.”

Not all drag shows are for a 21-plus audience, they said. Drag is not inherently sexual, Aaron added. Some acts are — but, essentially, drag is just dance and expression, they said.

Turning oppression into community

Daniela Ramos, of Lake Placid, took a break from volunteering at the event to dance on stage.

“It is the greatest thing ever,” she said, to have a Pride event right where she lives. “It fills my heart with joy. … It’s just so wholesome.”

Ramos is from Venezuela, where she said the culture is different and queer people are not always treated with respect. One thing she likes about the United States in her two years living here is the individual mindset, and respect for different opinions most people have.

In Venezuela, she said the family-centered community can get “nosy” and judgemental.

Back home, some of her family accepts her for who she is. Others do not. Her family still loves her, she said, but there is a difference in being loved and being loved “in spite of.”

Ramos said moving to America was one of best decisions of her life.

In the city of Valencia, Venezuela, she said there is a prison where gay people used to be incarcerated when being gay was a crime. When these people got out of jail, they stayed in the city, and formed a community of queer people there.

Now, Ramos said, Valencia is the home of one of the most accepting communities in Venezuela and hosts the largest Pride parade in the country.

She said turning horrible oppression into pride and community is a common thread worldwide, comparing her home country’s story to that of Pride parades in the U.S. rising from riots following police raids of gay bars in the 1960s.

Fashion show

Tori Vazquez, who owns the Main Street Exchange consignment shop in Saranac Lake, hosted a fashion show titled “This is Me.” Children from the Saranac Lake Youth Center who are part of the LGBTQIA-plus community showed off numerous custom-made outfits crafted from second-hand clothes from the store.

Saranac Lake Youth Center Director Aleacia Landon said the show raised donations for a fund at Main Street Exchange for children to get clothes for free — shoes, jackets or whatever they need.

Landon runs an LGBTQIA-plus youth group, too, which local queer children said is a helpful community.

Maddy Gallagher said the Youth Center and Landon have always been there for her on her journey.

“I knew that I wasn’t straight when I was 12 years old,” Gallagher said. “That is very, very scary.”

She said she sees America in a “state of regression,” but said Landon and her work are important parts of the local young LGBTQIA-plus community.

Piper, who did not want her last name used, said she was 11 when she came out.

“I don’t know what I’d be doing without (Landon),” Piper said.

Government support

The Pride event had numerous local and state representatives in attendance, showing their support for the LGBTQIA-plus community.

Harrietstown Supervisor Jordanna Mallach read a proclamation, which had been signed by all the local government boards which govern parts of Saranac Lake — the village of Saranac Lake and towns of Harrietstown, North Elba and St. Armand.

“That’s a lot of local government,” Mallach said.

Metzgar said without Harrietstown and BluSeed Studios helping and donating supplies, the event wouldn’t have happened.

The proclamation states that LGBTQIA-plus youth are far more likely to face violence and bullying; suffer depression; struggle with substance abuse or attempt suicide. To respond to this, the town and village board affirmed a commitment to protect their rights and foster an inclusive and safe community.

Interim Tupper Lake town Supervisor Mary Fontana said though she is not part of the LGBTQIA-plus community, she supports the community and loves the Tri-Lake’s efforts to grow diverse populations here.

Small communities can be the most supportive, she said.

“Our journey to bring equity, diversity and acceptance into our area has seen its opposition, but I do believe we have grown in kinship,” Fontana said.

She said Tupper Lake is not often seen as having a lot of diversity, but people are empathetic and accepting there. Anyone is welcome in her town, she said.

“A promise I make to you on behalf of my little town is that I will always be your ally, your neighbor, your friend,” Fontana said.

Owen Gilbo, an equal opportunity specialist from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and a trans man from Ticonderoga, read a state proclamation of Pride month. He also listed actions the state has taken on protecting LGBTQIA-plus people, including doubling funding for LGBTQIA-plus services, banning conversion therapy, legalizing gestational surrogacy and protecting people from hate and violence.

The event on Sunday was a memorable one for many of those in attendance.

After an on-stage dance battle between Ramos, Gallo and a performer named Jaxxsinn to cap off a “fan off” competition, Ramos said she had enough serotonin to last her the rest of the year.

A group of children dance around at the Tri-Lakes Pride Festival in Riverside Park on Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Saranac Lake Youth Center Director Aleacia Landon speaks at the Tri-Lakes Pride Festival in Riverside Park on Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Aaron Gallo, performing as Juno Diamond, drops to the floor while dancing at Tri-Lakes Pride Festival in Riverside Park on Sunday. Gallo has been doing drag in earnest for around a year now. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Venus, also known as Elle, blows a kiss to the audience during a fashion show at the first annual Tri-Lakes Pride Festival in Riverside Park on Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Jaxxsinn, left, and Daniela Ramos dance-battle on stage at the Tri-Lakes Pride Festival in Riverside Park on Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Daniela Ramos lip syncs on stage at the Tri-Lakes Pride Festival in Riverside Park on Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Ann Walton, with dogs Sunny, left, and Johann enjoy the sun at the Tri-Lakes Pride Festival in Riverside Park on Sunday. Sunny’s hair was cut in a sort of mohawk down her back. Walton said this makers her thick mane easier to wash. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Caitlin Will (right), a staff member at the Tri-Lakes Humane Society, and Kalla Ruger, a volunteer at the humane society, play with Lola, a pomeranian-husky mix at the first annual Tri-Lakes Pride event at Riverside Park on Sunday. Lola was up for adoption on Sunday, and she was walking around with Will and Ruger and greeting Pride attendees. (Enterprise photo — Lauren Yates)

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