The first White Mountains Pride week, happening through June 29, organizers are buoyed by business and community support.
“The feedback I have been getting from business sponsors is that they are very pleased to be involved,” said Christopher Bellis, co-organizer with D.J. Kramer of the LGBTQ event, which was spearheaded by the non-profit White Mountains Pride organization and is intended to promote awareness and acceptance of all people.
Steve Iannuzzi, owner of the newly opened Percy’s Paws Pet Shop at Settlers Green in North Conway, is one of those business supporters.
His shop is selling a variety of items pertaining to the Pride movement, including multi-colored “Pride Pup” stuffed dog bones, toys and doggy vests and doggy shirts as well as Pride shirts for women (men’s Pride T-shirts are forthcoming, he said).
“I think it’s important to support the community. Everyone, you know, has the right to be loved, and to be in love. Equal rights for everybody,” said Iannuzzi, who said he carried Pride products independent of this year’s inaugural event but did order more products once he learned more about the celebration.
“North Conway is a great place to live and a great place to have a business,” added Iannuzzi, “and I am happy to see this. It’s about time that they are starting to do something like this.”
As part of the celebration, OVP Management has been lighting the Settlers Green shopping complex in the rainbow colors representing Pride and the LGBTQ community as part of the “Light Up Pride” celebration.
Settlers Green is also offering complimentary pride flags and shopping discounts and special pride merchandise. The shopping outlet will be handing out free Pride flags on Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at customer service.
Businesses are offering special discounts and promotions, with places like as Max’s Restaurant at the Snowvillage Inn in Eaton and the Abenaki Grille holding Equality happy hours with drink specials daily.
Saco Canoe is offering $20 kayak rentals when customers mention White Mountains Pride, according to Bellis, who noted that his Cranmore Inn is offering discounts when guests mention White Mountains Pride.
Dot Seybold, Settlers Green general manager, agreed that it is all about inclusiveness.
“We are thrilled with the whole concept and that we are participating in something nationwide if not worldwide,” said Seybold, who said she happened to be at a Boston Pride parade recently where businesses showed their support.
“It’s an opportunity to welcome diversity,” said Seybold, adding, “I think it’s awesome and it definitely is a conversation that needs to take place in a rural community like ours.”
Upcoming events include:
• Toga party, Thursday, June 27, at 9 p.m. at McGrath’s Tavern, 3465 White Mountain Highway. Music by Shark Martin.
• Drag Queen Story Hour, Friday, June 28, 9:30 a.m. for tickets; story hour starts at 10 a.m. Conway Public Library, 15 Greenwood Ave., Conway.
• Meet the Queens, Friday, June 28, 2 p.m., Jackson Community Church, 127 Main St., in Jackson.
• Rev. Yolanda’s Gospel Hour Service, Friday, June 28, at 7 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church, 16 Pine St., North Conway.
• “How Inclusive Are We?” Worship Service, Sunday, June 30, at 10 a.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of The Eastern Slopes, 30 Tamworth Road, Tamworth.
• White Mountains Community Prides Festival, North Conway Community Center, Saturday, June 29, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Live music, vendors, games and food.
Bellis — who also is president of the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce and co-owner of the Cranmore Inn with husband Eddie Bennett — said as a start-up event, there is plenty of room to grow, and he is confident given the response to this year’s that it will prosper in many future years to come.
“My understanding is that the economic impacts will grow. There is an interest, and people have been coming into those businesses that are sponsoring us and saying thank you — the support from the community both from locals and visitors has been positive overall, and we are thankful,” added Bellis, who moved to this area seven years ago from New Jersey to raise his and Bennett’s children.
He said he was surprised that there has never been a Pride event in the region.
He mentioned that to Janice Crawford, executive director of the MWV Chamber. She put him in touch with local resident D.J. Kramer, formerly of New York City, who also had expressed an interest to create a Pride event. Kramer said she and her husband wanted their two children to be raised in an accepting, multicultural community.
Kramer and Bellis formed the committee and worked together with the business community and other volunteers to create this week’s celebration, which is being held 50 years after the Stonewall riots of New York City of June 27, 1979, which led to the national Pride movement.
“I would say the support shown by the community has been overwhelming,” Kramer told the Sun. “Am I surprised? Yes. But I think it was the right time; I think our community was ready for it. I think a lot of the churches have had a reconciliation, and have come to a point where they are inviting.”
The fact that Pride events happen in June is a coincidental economic benefit to the valley’s event, as it is occurring during what is normally a softer time of the year in the tourism-dependent region.
Bellis estimated attendance at White Mountains Pride events as of Tuesday morning to have been about 500 people in total, with more events planned.
Kramer, Bellis and the chamber’s Crawford acknowledged that despite the heated dialogue about Friday’s planned drag queen story hour at the Conway Public Library, both at trustees’ June 17 meeting and in the letters section in the pages of the Sun, the discussion has been a healthy one for the community to have.
“I think it’s incumbent upon all human beings to be non-judgmental and open to learning about people’s differences and to provide inclusiveness,” said Crawford, adding, “It’s important to have civility and understanding. We all have to live together and be accepting.”
For details on events and more information about White Mountains Pride, go to whitemountainspride.com or like them on Facebook.