Thirteen-year-old Hailey Gesler and her mother Alexis Wilson have made Connecticut history by planning and executing Fairfield County’s first ever Pride parade! The idea was Hailey’s, who is a seventh grader at Bethel Middle School.
Initially, Hailey and her friend Marcella Antunes were assigned a project. The focus of it: a social awareness issue. Hailey had also been wanting to have a parade in Bethel, so this was the perfect thing to do for her assignment.
Having a Pride parade is “hard at first,” Hailey recounts. But eventually, her and her mother “got the hang of it.” At first, the project had minimal publicity until a local coffeeshop shared the event on Facebook. Then, seemingly overnight, it blew up, and the two of them gained lots of supporters.
Bethel, Connecticut is not the best place to be LGBTQ+, with minimal resources, organizations, and groups for non-straight or transgender individuals to go to for help or fun activities. But, Alexis found that the community was “very welcoming” to the event. “Bethel needed it,” she says, as the only LGBTQ+ focused things in town take place at the high school’s GSA, and the middle school doesn’t even have a Gay-Straight Alliance that Hailey could be involved in.
So, when Hailey told her mom she wanted to have a parade, Alexis figured they’d gather some friends, walk down the street, and “make a stance” on the issue. Little did she know that it would actually have a huge turnout and a plethora of eager people ready to volunteer from around the county. In fact, everything in the process was smooth sailing. The Parks and Recreation department were “so amazing,” she says, and the only hiccup that came up was when a drag queen who was planning on coming pulled out at the last minute.
The parade electrified the town of Bethel. Colorful pride flags were on every corner, and joy was all around. On Sunday, April 24th, with hundreds of people in downtown Bethel, the community saw a vibrant side of the town that had no opportunity to show itself before.
As for the future, the mother-daughter duo intend on starting a Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) chapter in the Bethel area by September. They also talked to the advisers of the high school’s GSA about creating a middle school club to bring more awareness to parents and kids about LGBTQ+ people and issues. Hailey and Alexis intends to make being LGBTQ+ more common, de-stigmatized, and less of a big deal.
Hailey’s parting words: “be yourself,” and have pride! Don’t be afraid to hold hands with the person you love as you walk down the street, “hold their hand.”
Her mother’s advice to other people who want to organize events like Pride: utilize all the volunteers you have. “You never have too many,” she says. Also, talk to your town and work with them, especially people like the Parks and Recreation Department and the town police. Use your resources!
Alexis and Hailey are already planning Bethel Pride for next year! We look forward to seeing more from this awesome team.
Joely is a high school intern for Connecticut NOW. Her interests include intersectional feminism, women’s literature, YouTube, and documentaries such as, “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.” Joely also runs CT NOW’s Twitter and Instagram.