Photo c/o Interweave
By Meg O’Neil
June is celebrated as “Pride Month” in hundreds of cities and towns across the country by members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. While Newport does not have any formal Pride celebration, a group formed three years ago at Channing Memorial Church on Pelham Street has risen to the forefront as a local, welcoming community to all LGBT persons and their straight allies.
Known as Interweave, the group was founded in 2009 by congregant Lee Whitaker as a faith-based support group for members of the LGBT community living on Aquidneck Island.
Since its inception, Interweave has grown from hosting small potluck dinner and movie nights (which they still hold regularly) to the area’s only LGBT-themed prom. And though it’s their largest bash of the year, their “Born This Way” prom is not their only night to celebrate who they are.
This weekend, Interweave’s members will march in the 2012 Rhode Island PrideFest in Providence on Saturday, June 16.
Now celebrating its 36th year, the RI PrideFest is the second-largest Pride celebration in New England and features the “Illuminated Night Parade” which starts at approximately 8:30 p.m. at the intersection of Fountain and Dorrance streets in Providence.
The daylong event starts at noon on South Water Street with vendors, events, music, and more, and culminates in the night’s parade celebration.
Pam Goff is one of the co-chairs of Interweave. Although she is straight, Goff considers herself an ally to the LGBT community and says that the group is open to anyone – no affiliation to Channing Church or the Unitarian Universalist sect is required.
“Every person is welcome here,” Goff said. “We work towards ending oppression based on sexual orientation and gender identity – and we recognize that we won’t be free until all oppression is a thing of the past.”
Socially progressive and politically active, members of Interweave have also teamed up with Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) in recent years.
Their passion for equality extends beyond the city limits of Aquidneck Island, where Interweave is a regular presence at rallies at the RI State House, providing personal testimonies before the General Assembly on the topic of gay marriage, and pursuing various outreach initiatives.
In addition to an active Facebook page and Twitter account, Interweave has joined with social action and religious education committees to get involved with the anti-bullying movement in local schools and with Youth Pride Inc., a Providence-based program that works to support, educate and empower LGBT youth.
“Education is the key to change,” said Goff. “I like to focus on the young people – they’re fabulous and they need a lot of support. Sometimes their families reject them. We’re working to change that.”
While change doesn’t happen overnight, the numbers show that, as a whole, public opinion is slowly changing its perception of same-sex marriage and equality:
- As of May 10, same-sex marriage has been legalized in six states: Mass., Conn., Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, and the District of Columbia. Same-sex marriage laws have also passed in Washington and Maryland, but are not yet in effect.
- In a recent study conducted by the ORC International Survey: a majority of Americans – 54 percent – say same-sex marriage should be legally recognized.
- The poll also found that the number of Americans who say they know somebody who is gay has jumped from 49 percent in 2010, to 60 percent today.
Locally, Rhode Island recognizes civil-unions and most recently, due to an executive order decision by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, will also same-sex marriages that were performed in other states.
Goff says that until there is total equality, Interweave will continue to work to create a safe-haven for all members of the LGBT community and their allies.
“I cannot emphasize enough how much the young folks, and older ones too, enjoy celebrating life in an atmosphere of love and acceptance,” she said.