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Gay Day at Ocean Beach Park in New London serves as coming out celebration

By Anna Isaacs

Publication: The Day

Published August 12. 2013 4:00AM
Ocean Beach event symbolic for both group, individuals

New London - Lori Christman, perhaps better known as Jammin' 107.7's Miss L, hadn't been planning on making the announcement.

But when OutCT's president and founder, Constance Kristofik, called to see if her radio station would be the media sponsor of the southeastern Connecticut group's first Gay Day event, Christman said it just seemed like the right time.

So in the early afternoon on Sunday, standing next to her partner, Stacy, Christman, for the first time on the air, in front of a colorful, cheering crowd lining a set of risers on the Ocean Beach Park boardwalk, shakily acknowledging her nerves, said this: "Yes, I'm gay."

"I just felt like this was it," she said afterward.

Christman, who has been a radio DJ for more than 20 years, and her partner plan on getting married later this year.

It was a moment symbolic of OutCT's biggest event yet - a coming out of sorts - an all-day celebration featuring vendors, live music and a full slate of events, including a kite-flying contest, face-painting, Zumba, hula-hooping, volleyball games, roving performances by Mystic Paper Beasts, a screening of John Waters' "Hairspray" and the crowning of Miss Trans New England, New London's own Jasmina Andino.

Fascinated onlookers snapped photos with Doug Moffat, one of the performers with the Beasts - who call themselves "a collection of family and community that utilize mask, myth and dream to create interactive story experiences" - who had chosen a gold lace skirt and top as his latest costume from blankets full of whimsical clothes, masks and props.

A southeastern Connecticut native, Moffat said if someone had told him when he was 13 years old that an event like this would take place in New London - even if someone had told him 10 years ago, he said - he wouldn't have believed them.

"I am in shock," he said.

OutCT is a local organization that formed this past spring under the leadership of Kristofik. With experience as a Pride organizer in Pennsylvania, Kristofik considered doing it here, even completing a feasibility study on whether the area could support it.

"I wasn't sure about committing to it, because it's a big thing," she said.

But with some encouragement from Mayor Daryl Finizio, who is openly gay, Kristofik began reaching out to the public and rounding up volunteers. She quickly realized that with the staggering amount of local support - the group has 13 board members and 15 volunteers - OutCT wasn't limited to just one yearly event.

After a kickoff party this spring, OutCT has already hosted a drag brunch at Dev's in June with another one planned in September, as well as a scavenger hunt, panel discussions on religion and the military, and a film series.

Gay Day is the group's biggest endeavor yet - one that Kristofik hopes to make annual. The group still has its sights set on a full-blown Pride festival. But depending on the success of Gay Day, Kristofik said this may well turn into a Pride festival.

"We really want to bring the gay and straight community together, so it might be educational, informative, for the allied community," she said of the mission of Gay Day. "Or maybe they aren't allied yet. Maybe they need to find out more about the GLBT community."

Lorraine Gibbs, a self-proclaimed "rainbow vendor" who organizes trips for gay women, said she travels from state to state to events like these with her multicolored wares - belts, T-shirts, bracelets, necklaces, knapsacks, pins. Her business card - with a rainbow on the edge - reads: "You Got To Have Pride To Be on The Rainbow Side."

Gibbs said she heard about Gay Day during Pride in Providence.

"We're on the beach and it's just good people," she said. "I love it. I'll be back every year."

Denise Ucci, an accountant who picked up a pair of rainbow flag sunglasses from Gibbs' table - "I'm going to put these on right now" - said she heard about Gay Day through some friends. She carpooled with a group of women from as far as West Hartford, Burlington and Rocky Hill.

"It's a gorgeous day and it's a gorgeous beach," she said.

In the early afternoon, browsing the vendors, Ucci said she was waiting to drag her single friends to the 3 p.m. girls' meet and greet.

"I don't know where it is, but that's where I'm going," she said.

The Southeastern Connecticut chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) held down a table near the rainbow tie-dye T-shirts, where Barbara Althen, the chapter's president, and Chuck Lynch, a volunteer, were chatting up passers-by, displaying brochures with titles like "Queer & Faithful?" and "Opening the Straight Spouse's Closet."

"I've been married to my wife for 14 years and we could use some counseling," one woman said, chuckling.

"Whatever straight people can use, gay people can use," Althen told her, "and that's life."

Althen said OutCT, for which she serves as a board member, had been hoping for a flawless beach day like the one Sunday provided.

"And here we are," she said, before happily recalling the welcome sight of two young bikini-clad women strolling the sand with their arms around each other.

"It just made my heart sing," she said.

"It's very affirming," Lynch added.

Althen said Facebook played a crucial role in spreading the word from advocacy group to advocacy group across the state. Judging by the turnout Sunday, Althen said the networking was a success, bringing in people from far and wide for a gathering she called equal parts serious and whimsy.

"I hope this is just the beginning of an annual event," she said.

a.isaacs@theday.com

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