OutCT hosts second Pride at the Beach Festival on Saturday

Comedian and actress Erin Foley will host the Pride at the Beach Festival In New London on Saturday.
Comedian and actress Erin Foley will host the Pride at the Beach Festival In New London on Saturday. Photo submitted

On Saturday, Ocean Beach Park in New London will be transformed into a fun-filled, super-charged festival with activities and performances as diverse as the people who are expected to attend when OutCT hosts the New London Pride Festival for the second summer running.

OutCT is a nonprofit organization that was established in 2013 by a group of people in the GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer) community and their allies in southeastern Connecticut.

An upbeat array of entertainment will include a performance by the lesbian comedian/actress Erin Foley, who has appeared on Comedy Central and national TV shows such as "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," "Last Call with Carson Daly," and "Chelsea Lately." Foley is the event's host and emcee and will be at the festival all day.

The Hartford Gay Men's Chorus, Mystic Paper Beasts theater company and regional bands will perform. Also on tap are Zumba classes, hoop dancing and Native American dancing, as well as African drumming and a volleyball tournament.

In addition, there will be community forums and meet-and-greets with politicians, celebrities and others who identify as LGBTQ. Vendors will provide gay pride merchandise as well as information and resources on a variety of topics including health, mental health, spirituality and aging.

And, because the event is being held at Ocean Beach Park, although the festival is free, the fee to park or walk-in will give attendees access to the half-mile boardwalk, Olympic-size swimming pool, playground and splash park, waterslides, children's rides, mini-golf snack bar/cafe, bar/lounge and more.

WHY A GAY PRIDE FESTIVAL?

Constance Kristofik, president of the OutCT board of directors, organized gay pride festivals in Pennsylvania between 2000 and 2005. She moved to New London in 2006 to become director of New London Landmarks and kicked off the local festival last summer with a group of volunteers.

OutCT was established primarily to plan the festival but the grass-roots organization quickly gained so many volunteers and so much energy that it is also organizing art exhibits, film series, concerts, educational forums and a youth program.

Kristofik says the overall mission of OutCT is "to provide cultural, educational and social programming for sexual and gender minorities."

The origin of gay pride festivals goes back to the Stonewall Riots of 1969 that occurred outside the Stonewall Gay Bar in New York City.

"At that time the police used to raid GLBT bars and that year people fought back, protesting for equal rights," Kristofik says. "It started with pride marches and then became festivals that are usually held in late June, when the riots happened."

The festivals serve a lot of purposes, Kristofik points out, from providing resources and information - particularly helpful for people just coming out - to giving GLBT artists a platform to perform.

"The festival provides a sense of community - particularly in more rural and suburban communities where (gay/straight) interaction is minimal," she says. "This creates a space where people come together.

"Having been a pride organizer and having attended many festivals," she adds, "there's almost an unintended exclusivity of all GLBTQ people coming together. But because of our venue at the beach and this festival being so geared to families, the allied community may feel a little more welcome to attend a gay pride event."

She notes that the festival is a safe, welcoming place for parents to come with their teenage GLBTQ son or daughter.

"It normalizes it - although once they see a drag queen, it may throw them off a little," she jokes.

YOUTH PROGRAM

"We came up with the idea that if we're going to be a pride organization, we need to empower and educate our youth," says Curtis Goodwin, the festival's chair of marketing and public relations and chair of the new youth program, PRIDE STARTS WITH YOU(th), serving ages 14 to 20.

"OutCT held a series of community forums and invited area Gay Student Alliances from various schools in the New London area to get an idea what schools offer and what we can offer being community based, and see what the differences are," he says. "We came to realize schools don't offer that much (regarding) empowering and educating students and that GSAs needed outside help as far as recruiting active volunteers and being innovative resources."

Goodwin says the focus with older kids is on everyday life skills, like working and transitioning.

"How do we transition them as 'coming out' the moment they identify themselves as gay, straight or bi?" he asks. "And how do we get them back into the everyday world as adults without losing them to suicide or HIV? We don't want them to fall in the cracks as most of our students are doing. They're going out in the world without the tools they need to survive out there.

True Colors in Hartford is OutCT's partner organization, but Goodwin points out that, "We're the only organization in Greater New London offering this support."

Goodwin was born and raised in New London and graduated in the New London High School Class of 2005.

"I know the area and know the need and know how much further I would have gone if they had this program then," he says.

At the festival, there will be a PRIDE STARTS WITH YOU(th) booth with information about the initiative and sign-ups for the program. A teen social meet-up hour will be held from 5 to 6 p.m. on the Nautilus deck where teens can meet other teens in the area that are allies or gay, straight or bisexual.

"Straight people are more than welcome. It's important to have allies as well in the program," Goodwin says. "I find in the younger generation that friends want to come along and be more proactive as far as promoting programming and healthy living. I don't want this to be a gay thing or isolated thing. I want it to be very innovative and forward thinking."

A youth hour on the main stage will feature breakdancers and a performance by Eric Tyler, making his R&B debut with a tribute to the PRIDE STARTS WITH YOU(th) campaign. A portion of the proceeds of his debut single being sold on iTunes will be donated to the OutCT initiative.

"Constance has pulled together people from so many walks of life," Goodwin says. "She's very good at connecting all of us, and that's what this is all about. It's about diversity and what we can do together as a team."

IF YOU GO

What: Pride at the Beach Festival

When: Saturday, Aug. 23, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Ocean Beach Park, 98 Neptune
Ave., New London

How much: The festival is free, but there
is an admission charge of $22 per car
to enter the park or $6 for walk-ins.
Additional fees apply to some of the
attractions.

More information: www.outct.org or call
(860)339-4060. More information about
the park at www.ocean-beach-park.com.

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