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'Waking Up Is A Process': Pride, A Pandemic And The Role Of Protests

A woman and a small white fluffy dog under a rainbow umbrella.
Lisa Carton and her dog, Merlin (Moo for short). Carton spoke with VPR's Mitch Wertlieb about celebrating Pride this year, with both a pandemic and national protests over systematic racism ongoing.

How will Vermont’s LGBTQ community celebrate Pride Month in the midst of an historic pandemic, not to mention national protests over systematic racism?

Lisa Carton is the founder and director of Queer Connect in Bennington. She also has a private psychotherapy practice there.

Lisa Carton spoke with VPR's Mitch Wertlieb. Their interview is below, and has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: How are you thinking about Pride Month this year? Are you planning any events? What will be different?

Lisa Carton: What's different is we've, almost three months ago now, started to move all of our activities online. So we have a lesbian story hour every week, which is just incredible with lesbian authors who read their contemporary works. Friday is our Planned Parenthood panel on reproductive liberty in the queer community.

And then Saturday, because we can't have the parade we were planning for that day, we are having a car caravan, a Pride caravan, and we've expanded that.

We're actually meeting up with Rutland people. So there's a group in Rutland ... driving around with their cars decorated. And we have a Bennington contingent. And we're all going to drive around our towns, and then drive north, south and east and meet in Manchester. So in Manchester, we're going to have a pretty big gathering of cars at 1 o'clock Saturday afternoon. And we're gonna  drive around together playing loud music and being joyful and spreading Pride cheer in a completely safe way.

More from VPR: 'We Are Everywhere': New Bennington LGBTQ Group Reaches For Visibility

There are many students of many ages who are home more or less full-time right now. And for those who are LGBTQ ... this means that some of them may be in a home environment that is not supportive of their identity. For some, it may not even be safe for them to be public about their identity at home. Is this something you're watching? Are there ways to help kids who may be in uncomfortable or unsafe situations right now?

Absolutely. It's been a primary concern from from day one. You know, when we were all told that we had to shelter in place, stay home, the first thing I thought of — I have goosebumps right now, because there are so many kids and adults forced to be inside in an unsafe — at every level, emotionally, physically, spiritually — unsafe place, you know, where it's difficult to thrive.

We tried to reach out to some our queer youth by offering Zoom meetings, drop in meetings, and it wasn't successful. I think mostly, for one thing, what happened with our school system, [it] went on overload trying to educate kids online. And they were so busy trying to adjust.

So what can people do? You know, I think we can reach out a lot more, we can call and we can say, "How are you?" One adult, one caring adult, makes an incredible difference to a kid who, you know, just feels so alienated.

And just having the awareness, that when a kid tells you, they come out, and you're supportive and you say, "That's great. Yes, that's great." And it's important to say, "And how is that being received? How is that in your family? How is that for you?" I think that's a huge thing everybody can do.

The reason Pride Month is in June isto commemorate the Stonewall riots back in the late 60s. Those were led by trans women of color. And this year, I'm wondering how you see Pride Month intersecting with this nationwide protest now against police brutality and systemic racism. It almost seems like things are coming full circle.

They are. You know, we're waking up again. I remember like the very first Pride I went to a New York City, was the Stonewall 20th, and hardly anyone knew what Stonewall was. And then five years later, no one knew what Stonewall was. And now, last year, everybody, it was Stonewall everywhere.

You know, the intersection is profound.

More from VPR: 50 Years After Stonewall, Two Southern Vermont Towns Hold First Pride Parades

Does this feel different to you? Does this feel like a tipping point?

Yeah, I think it's an opportunity, a huge opportunity. Here we are again. There's opportunities. You know, I'm 55. And in my whole lifetime, we have had opportunities over and over, and we fall back asleep. And waking up is, you know, it's not just like one day you open your eyes and you see everything clearly. Waking up is a process, and a very painful one.

More from VPR: Crowd Confronts Burlington Police During Protest For George Floyd

So to me, this is where it's about how we take this moment, especially the ones that are painful and where we're angry and we're charged up, and we're maybe in fight-or-flight mode, which so many of us now are, how we learn to deal with that in a different way, to do something. Because if we don't connect with peace and safety, then we can not act from a place of peace and safety, it's impossible.

And we have the opportunity like, right now, to use this as an entry point. Discomfort often is really helpful, when we feel like the rug's been pulled out, and a lot of us do, and we're petrified, and a lot of us are, then we can actually use this very moment to transform our own fear and help each other.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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