To celebrate Pride Month and honor the 30th anniversary of the Newton South High School Gay Straight Alliance, the city of Newton raised the Unity flag June 1. Community members gathered inside City Hall to hear city officials and activists speak about the importance of supporting the city’s LGBTQ community.
Holly Ryan, the city’s first openly transgender elected councilor, originally suggested Newton raise the Pride flag outside city hall in 2014. Today, however, the nationwide “pushback against the LGBTQ+ community,” has made the event all the more important.
“Especially the trans community and trans kids,” Ryan said in the interview. “The more cities and towns and the federal government and the state show their support” the better, Ryan said, “and that’s the way to show the support.”
This year the Newton Human Rights Commission honored the 30th anniversary of the Newton South High School Gay Straight Alliance — the first public-school GSA in the country.
“We did focus on safety and educating people in the community, and that’s [what] all our programs have done, trying to just raise awareness,” said Bob Parlin, founder of the GSA at Newton South. “Everyone should feel safe, and everyone should feel welcomed in a public school setting.”
Parlin said the club saw around 50 students show up at its first meeting in 1991, including students who wanted to support their LGBTQ peers. He said the club is open to everyone.
“It was so clear that there was a need for this and the students had just felt so desirous of something to be able to talk with each other,” Parlin said.
Ben Miner, vice president of the Newton South GSA and a rising junior, said the city has a “strong and prominent” LGBTQ community.
“I think we’re lucky to live in a more progressive part of the country where being out is not as much of a risk as it would be in other places,” Miner said.
Jordan Smith-Michaels, president of the Newton South GSA and a current senior, said it was “nice” to see over 500 participants show up to Newton South GSA’s webinars on the LGBTQ day of awareness in December 2020.
“It really shows people want to be there, and people want to engage,” she said.
As a part of Pride Month, the Newton South GSA is displaying artworks, including a series of posters featuring LGBTQ icons and historical figures, as well as a selection of books and photographs showing Pride parades in the region.
Miner said raising the unity pride flag has significant meaning because it shows both a “physical and spiritual” connection to the community.
“It’s the significance of raising the flag that allows people to feel seen by the community,” Miner said. “It’s high up, so everyone can see it.”
Over 80 people joined the ceremony June 1, many of them parents.
“I’m here today because I’m a gay lady, and I was waving this flag before my children were born,” said Laurie Smith-Michaels, mother of Jordan Smith-Michaels. “Now I waive it with my children, also in support of all the folks here, and we want people to be proud.”
Miner’s mother, Cara Attanucci, said she was “hopeful” to see the future generation strive for equal rights for everyone and hoped to see more events supporting the community.
“There definitely should be more opportunities for people to gather together,” Attanucci said. “Personally I would like to see more opportunities up in the schools for events like this to be supported.”
Mayor Ruthanne Fuller concluded the ceremony by saying the city will continue to support the LGBTQ community.
“We are here to show our unwavering support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and intersex members of our community,” Fuller said. “And tomorrow we will continue to do this vital work together.”
Jordan Smith-Michaels said it is “disheartening” how the LGBTQ community continues to get federal-level pushback from legislation like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida that restricts any LGBTQ discussion in classrooms.
“I do appreciate [this] from the city,” Jordan Smith-Michaels said. “I think it’s important that people feel safe and the legislation is going to back them up.”
Cici Yu can be reached at email@example.com.