By Raena Doty
Arts & Ideas celebrated National Coming Out Day with a Halloween-themed dinner and costume party Oct. 11.
Several Massachusetts-based charities helped to put the event together, creating a memorable holiday for LGBT+ people of all walks of life.
The Pride Across Generations event was the fifth of its type. It has been held annually on National Coming Out Day, but was not held last year due to pandemic protocol.
Kim Dexter, assistant vice president of Human Resources and Equal Opportunity, led the event in collaboration with Arts & Ideas, Springwell, and MASS Rainbow Groups.
The Arts & Ideas theme for the year is “Sustaining Life and Sustaining Joy,” which Dexter said is a perfect complement for the Pride Across Generations event.
“[It] is kind of underlying everything that we’re doing, right? So making sure that folks do feel joyful. They are experiencing something fun - something that they can take with them tonight,” she said.
Dexter said organizers decided having the event be Halloween-themed would be a fun way to allow people to be more authentic. Many attendees said they came in part because they wanted to celebrate both holidays.
Julie Nowak, LGBTQIA+ initiative coordinator for Springwell, spoke about her experiences with costumes and confidence.
In her 20s, she said she spent a lot of time wearing clothes she didn’t feel comfortable in, but by studying costume technology in college, she learned how to make clothes that made her feel good and taught her she could have a place in this world.
For the event, she wore a jacket she transformed after buying it from a thrift store, which she described as “what would happen if Alexander McQueen dressed the Lannisters.”
The event focused on bringing together different LGBT+ people from all different age ranges, from students at FSU to people old enough to remember the Stonewall riot, Dexter said.
Springwell is a charity focused on providing support for elderly people, and Nowak said her job is specifically to help senior LGBT+ people. She said it’s highly important to connect young and old LGBT+ people together, both personally and in the fight for rights.
“The older folks have the knowledge of the history that’s been deliberately hidden or obscured from the younger generations. Younger folks have a breathtaking fluidity of language. ... It’s a two way conversation. We all learn from each other and we love having these conversations,” she said.
Nowak emphasized many older LGBT+ people have a deep mistrust of those who offer services intended to help them as they age due to previous negative experiences with authority figures and discrimination.
Springwell was previously involved with the Pride Across Generations event, and they also hold other events that connect generations together.
Nowak said, “Coming to an event like this, this is how younger people can help. ... Let’s start the conversation. That’s where the heart of it is.”
Pauline Bosma, founder of MASS Rainbow Groups, spoke about how important visibility and intersectionality within the LGBT+ community is. She said disabled people tend to be less likely to talk about experiences being LGBT+ for fear of how their identities intersect.
Oscar Hughes, Bosma’s assistant, said, “People with disabilities are still left out of social groups and social spaces. People don’t always treat people with disabilities fairly or see them as someone who they can be friends with.”
He spent the first half of the night dressed in his fifth grade Girl Scout uniform, then changed halfway throughout the costume contest into a Boy Scout’s uniform - representing his own transition as a trans man.
Former FSU student Maxwell Morrongiello discussed his personal experience finding a place to belong in the LGBT+ community. He described Pride Across Generations as “a venue for queer people to share their experiences and be a part of a queer space.”
He said his Hebrew name means “joy” in English, which he is very proud of despite his own struggles with maintaining joy throughout his life.
“Joy isn’t something you can catch. Joy is found in the journey and my journey isn’t over,” he said.
The Pride Across Generations event included dinner. Dexter said this was important because often elderly LGBT+ individuals end up isolated from the typical support systems expected for someone their age, meaning they may not have access to meals.
Dexter said entertainment is vital for a very different reason because of the importance of celebration and joy. This year’s featured event was a costume contest.
There were four winners for the costume contest: “Most Cute,” “Most Fabulous,” “Most Fierce,” and “Most Joyful.” The crowd voted by cheering for who they wanted to win, and whoever got the most cheers received a small prize.
Sarah Scrivener, a senior at Bridgewater State University who works with Rainbow Groups, won “Most Cute'' for her costume of Junko Enoshima from “Danganronpa.” She said National Coming Out Day is a way to celebrate her community, and Rainbow Groups has become a kind of home to her as an LGBT+ autistic person.
Faith Wangui, freshman fashion design and merchandising major, won “Most Fabulous,” dressed in a green suit and wearing fake elf ears, though she said she was not dressed as any particular character.
Nora Johnson, a member of Rainbow Groups, won “Most Fierce” dressed as a forest enchantress. She said, “[National Coming Out Day] makes me feel really joyful and happy for people that feel like they can be themselves and everything and not worry about what other people say, because it’s hard to come out, but once you do it, it’s usually much better.”
Lastly, “Most Joyful” went to two friends who entered together: Karl Skinner and Doreen Noble. They were decked out in rainbow headbands, stickers, and other miscellaneous decorations from Dollar Tree, Noble said.
Noble emphasized the importance of the older generation in the LGBT+ community. “It is on the work of a lot of the older people that the queer kids are able to [come out],” she said.
Skinner said, “I was at the first pride march in Boston, and we were graced by rocks and bottles, and to see it grow over the years and to have the support of the community, both straight and gay, was astonishing.”