By Colleen Goodhue
Pride comes to White River Junction this week with a variety of virtual and in-person, socially distanced events including a queer caravan, virtual dance party, and Sunday morning coffee by the White River. We spoke with WRJ Pride Planning Committee founder and chair Anna Guenther about the planning that went into the inaugural WRJ Pride, how it shifted due to the pandemic, and what to expect this week and in the years ahead.
Colleen: Could you take me through the genesis of WRJ Pride?
Anna Guenther: First I want to shout out to Babes Bar [in Bethel, VT] because we went to a Queer Dance Party that they threw last June. A straight ally agreed to designated drive, so a bunch of us from White River went up for the night. On the way up and on the way down I was like, “Why are we driving 30 minutes to go to a Pride event? We have parades and dances and other events in our town all the time [but not a Pride event].”
Then in October I started putting up posters for volunteers for an exploratory meeting [to form WRJ Pride] and about 25 people showed up to that, so we started with a decent number, interestingly not all from White River, but people from around the Upper Valley who consider White River their sort of cultural and social nexus and home.
We started to plan. We did a lot of intellectual and even I would say pretty emotional labor to figure out what our mission statement and our ethos was, and getting a lot of people with a pretty wide range of opinions and political understandings on the same page. We sort of hashed that out for a few months, figuring out who we were as a committee, and then we put out a big mailing at literally the worst time, maybe two weeks before the pandemic really came to the United States in terms of the news and people's adaptations. We sent maybe a few hundred letters to Hartford businesses. I think we got like three back. It was very sad, but I don't blame them at all. There's no fault there at all and we have gotten a lot of support from people who can.
Then everything hit and things went on pause for a couple of months. We restarted meetings over Zoom and that has been an interesting process where I would say we have maybe five or six really dedicated volunteers, but they cycle in and out of when they can meet and what they can do.
Colleen: What will this week look like?
Anna: My day job is as an event coordinator at the Enfield Shaker Museum, so I'm also still doing 40 hours there. As an event coordinator, I never thought I'd be just pulling things together within a month like this. I'm a planner, so it's so hard to work around uncertainty. It's been a very unique situation.
Wednesday is when Wolf Tree opens; they’re selling a cocktail called Angel Eyes and they are going to donate a portion of their profits to White River Pride. So Wednesday I'm going to go buy a lot of cocktails probably and just hand them out to everyone I know.
Also, I’ve gotta come up with some kind of backdrop for the Virtual Queer Dance Party [hosted by DJ ShaR4 and DeVote] on Friday and decorate some spot in my home that I feel like I can sufficiently darken and sparkle up so that I can dance in a Zoom dance party.
Colleen: What’s a Zoom dance party like?
Anna: I have gone to a couple since the lockdown started, but I have not organized one, so we've been struggling through the technology, but I think we've gotten there. There's a platform called Twitch that has really good sound qualities, so the sort of best combination that we found is to have everyone on mute on Zoom and the music comes through Twitch. The Zoom screen just allows you to have that Brady Bunch screen of people dancing, just to let you know that you're with people.
The post-pandemic adaptation included answering this specific moment in the fight for racial justice, shifting to committing funds raised to queer POC organizations and people, and paying performers of color. We have three burlesque performances that we'll play as an intermission to the dance party by Hi Ho Silver Works, a Vermont burlesque artist.
Thursday is the Queer Young Adult Authors Panel with Yankee Bookshop [with Dean Atta, Tobly McSmith, and Rebecca Kim Wells].
Saturday we have a Queer Caravan Car Parade, a sort of a stay-in-your-car parade instead of a traditional march. We’re going to start and end in the White River train station parking lot and just drive in a big loop through town with decorated cars. The River 93.9 is playing all LGBT artists from noon to 1 p.m., so afterwards I think we're going to sort of hang out with our cars in a socially distant circle and listen to the radio.
And Sunday morning we're having coffee by the river at the Main Street Museum fire pit, all outdoor, physically distanced, bring your own stuff. Abracadabra Coffee is donating some cold brew for that event as well.
So it's going to be a whirlwind of a week.
Colleen: What are your expectations for this week?
Anna: There was a time when the pandemic first hit when I thought that we were going to have to abandon everything and cancel everything so just the fact that we have this core group of ten to twenty people who are excited about it is enough for me and I’ll also be excited to have more visibility around White River.
It’s a unique year. My expectations for a different year would be so different and were so different. We had to adapt so dramatically to be happy with what we're doing now, because Pride is normally such a time of love and joy and affection and physical affection and it's very difficult to not have that refilling of your soul every year.
Colleen: Are you already thinking about 2021?
Anna: Yeah, I think it helps everybody cope with some of the disappointments of this year to look optimistically to next year. I know that with the relationships we've established, the committee we’ve established, and the time spent figuring out who we were as a group of people, I think that work will last us the next five years. I really wanted it to be an annual, sustainable event. That was one of our goals from the beginning: how can this be a year-round resource for queer people in the Upper Valley if they need to connect to their community? And how can we make sure it's not just a one-off party but a really deep celebration that continues for visibility and validation for all of the Upper Valley queer people?
Colleen: Do you think that the Upper Valley is a difficult place for queer people to find each other?
Anna: I think it definitely can be a difficult place for anybody to find each other, so then that can make it extra difficult to find your people. For me, I started considering White River Junction to be sort of a central place for me when I was living out in West Fairlee for maybe two, three years. I started going to the Main Street Museum because they had a "grotesque burlesque" event that was very queer and sex positive, and I was like “This is my place!” And so, in some ways there are I think beacons, maybe it's a good way to put it, in places like that.
I grew up in Georgia with a very different set of challenges for being queer. So I see the absence of a lot of that overt hostility or overt negative judgment up here, but there is a subtler othering, which can sometimes be more insidious, that happens in a place as homogeneous as our area.
I used to drive down to Keene to go on a date with somebody, you know, and I think people are used to driving 20 to 40 minutes to do something with people that they like or to go on a date. And that's just kind of part of the Upper Valley. I do wish there were more queer events and that's part of why I started organizing this.
Colleen: What will be like your dream event when you can be in person again?
Anna: I would say a march and the time and resources for full community support and involvement. We had planned a festival in Lyman Point Park and we were going to have different educational resources, obviously have somebody like Planned Parenthood there. Planned Parenthood is actually going to have a table set up on Saturday during our parade in the little park across from Tuckerbox. So I'm super happy about that, so that will have materials that people can take away. For instance, we were working with Angel [Hudson] of the HIV/AIDS Resource Center in Lebanon to have a mobile testing site at the festival. And that's not something we can do now.
My ideal event is one that is based in White River, because I love this town so passionately, and one that people from all over the Upper Valley come to. Just being together is so fulfilling. I just think queer love is so beautiful and when I'm around it, I feel better about the world. When I'm around open expressions of it and the kind of liberation and freedom that Pride marches can bring to your plain old Main Street is amazing. So yeah, I would say a big march and a big festival.
We had planned a Mx. White River Pride where we were going to crown a nonbinary royalty to be the head of our parade. We wanted to try and reach kids in the schools more just to provide connections, especially for trans students or any student or child who doesn't necessarily have support at home. That's something that we haven't been able to do as much of this year, to get ourselves in front of the students because the teachers in the schools are dealing with so much right now. So I know that was in our original meeting, we wanted this to be a multi-generational thing.
We’re adapting to this environment and providing events that people feel comfortable with, which includes some virtual events, some in-person, physically distanced events. This is a Pride for this particular moment. I think the San Francisco Pride 2020 tagline is something like, “Pride 2020 is virtual, but queer solidarity is forever” and I have kept that in my head through this organizing process as a reminder that this week will be wholly different than I ever imagined, but it doesn't really matter; it takes all kinds of Pride to make up the world.
This interview was posted after the WRJ Pride event Revenge of the Queers Movie Night on Tuesday, July 21. Anna gave a huge shout out to the Revenge of the Movie Night crew for setting up that event. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Colleen Goodhue is a videomaker and writer living in West Lebanon, NH. She loves archives, long layovers, and all kinds of friendly competition. She performs with Valley Improv, the Upper Valley’s best and only improv troupe.