The Newton Human Rights Commission honored LGBTQ members of the community with an annual flag raising ceremony June 1, marking the first day of Pride month. The ceremony — online and in person — honored six adults in the healthcare field because of their work with COVID-19 patients and three local youths who created an online LGBTQ zine.
Members of the community nominated the honorees, according to Brooke Welles, chair of the Human Rights Commission. She said it was great to host an in-person event again.
“It’s a delight to be able to come together in person to be in a community and in a region of our country where it’s safe enough to do that,” she said.
One of the youth honorees, Ella Bailey, was honored for her work with Sunbow Zine, which is “by and for young women and queer artists” according to their website, and a collaboration with two of her close friends.
“It was lovely to be honored,” 18-year-old Bailey said. “It was really great, after a year of relative isolation just to be all around wonderful people from the community.”
Welles spoke about how the creativity on Sunbow Zine from Bailey and her two co-creators, Zoe Goldstein and Rachel Sontheimer, kept the community “inspired throughout our isolation.”
All of the adult honorees were members of the LGBTQ community who work at Newton-Wellesley hospital.
Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said she felt great joy raising the Pride flag.
“Our Pride flag flies as a symbol of the spirit of inclusivity, pride, unity, and celebration for our lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and queer people here in our community,” Fuller said.
Two out of the six adult honorees, Erin Miller and Sandy Cho, were able to attend the flag raising ceremony. Cho said she was grateful to the city for hosting the event.
“The inability to gather this time last year felt like a loss for queer and trans communities and their allies,” Cho said.
In her speech at the event, Fuller said it was good to be together in person, and she approached it with a “certain bounce in her step” after a difficult year.
Welles said future in-person events might still not be possible for everyone, especially those in marginalized communities because of COVID-19 risks, so they are continuing to offer many online events. The commission’s goal is to be “welcoming and inclusive” for everyone in the community, she said.
The Human Rights Commission also is responsible for outreach with human rights issues in Newton, including fielding hate crime complaints and educational outreach.
“We’re charged with creating a safe community,” Welles said.
Bailey, one of the youth honorees, said Newton is not free of hatred, despite the “relatively safe space” the town creates for community members to be themselves. Recently, she said, a Pride flag and Black Lives Matter flag were taken from her neighbors’ yard.
“The community banded together to figure out how to move on,” she said. “The community as a whole has been supporting them.”
Fuller said she feels great to be mayor in a city that “jubilantly supports the dignity and self-worth of the LGBTQ community.”
Bailey hopes Newton residents can acknowledge the privilege they have to be able to talk about issues such as LGBTQ rights in the community.
“We know that as we raise the Pride flag tonight, across our country fundamental LGBTQ rights are being challenged,” Fuller said during the event, pointing to 125 bills sitting in state legislatures across the country against gender affirming healthcare.
Bailey also said there is still work to be done in Newton, and she is eager to continue being an activist for the LGBTQ community and celebrating Pride month working on Sunbow Zine’s second issue.
Cho, a registered nurse, pointed to how COVID-19 was one area where LGBTQ individuals were affected greatly because of what she described as continued bias toward this community.
“Hospital staff and providers saw first-hand the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on queer, trans, and nonbinary communities,” Cho said. “All that makes this moment and this pride month so much more precious.”
Andi Purcell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.