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New Bedford gets its Pride back

Anyone with a passing familiarity with Richard Florida’s work probably knows that the guru of urban regeneration considers the concentration and active participation of gay men and women of high importance to a city’s creative class and ultimate success. So much so that he even created a “Gay index” to help gauge a place’s future viability. Florida wrote in “Cities and the Creative Class” that talent or creative capital is attracted to places that score high on basic indicators of diversity – a dynamic LGBT community being one of them.

While New Bedford is certainly home to a wonderful LGBT community, it hasn’t been a particularly visible or vibrant one – but that may finally be beginning to change for the better and to the city’s benefit.

The rising voice of the LGBT in community affairs, culture and nightlife is being heard everywhere. The city’s too often overlooked gay bar, Le Place at 20 Kenyon Street in the north end, is enjoying a renaissance with new drag and movie nights and other fun events. Incognito bar on Acushnet Avenue has a relaxed, “post-gay” vibe. (Post-gay being defined as an attitude that looks upon all sexuality as simply human rather subject to a label.) The New Bedford Local Cultural Council just helped fund an exhibit that will take place this summer at the New Bedford Free Public Library which will feature photos from Provincetown’s ‘70s-era gay heyday.

But perhaps most important is the fact that New Bedford is getting its Pride back.

Pride in the Park

On Saturday, June 3, New Bedford rejoins the ranks of cities holding public gay pride festivals with “Pride in the Park.”

The day-long celebration takes place at Buttonwood Park beginning at 9:30am and includes the following: “Yoga in the Park” hosted by Jeff Costa; a “Pride Wellness Walk” hosted by New Bedford Wellness Initiative; vendors; flow artists; drag performers and live singers. There will even be a headliner: Kristen Merlin from Season 6 of The Voice. It will be an all-ages, family-friendly event that goes on until 4:00pm.

South Coast LGBTQ Network, an umbrella organization of non-profit groups, is leading the way. Traci Welch, the Network’s event coordinator and secretary, explains that she and the Network picked up the reins of Pride two years ago when its former organizer, South Coast Equality, wasn’t able to make its traditional downtown public event happen. They moved it to Le Place for the last two years – but were always concerned that it excluded families, being a 21 and up venue. (This year, an after-Pride night-time event takes place at Le Place.)

So, they’ve gone to work to create “Pride in the Park” – and sponsors, program advertisers and vendors are welcome to show their support. You can get all the information you need at

A vibrant gay community

It’s a great thing that New Bedford has its Pride back. While the city has generally always been a relatively accepting place, it hasn’t exactly been at the forefront of sexual politics. And, the horrific Puzzles attack cast a pall on the gay community even as Massachusetts led the nation in the fight for same-sex marriage.

Renewed respect for and attention to vital institutions that mean something to the LGBT community like Le Place and a Pride celebration are big steps in the right direction. Just as important, the recognition of  LGBT leaders with a voice in the greater community dialogue is critical.

A vibrant LGBT community that is engaged and engaging can only burnish the appeal of New Bedford, solidify its growing reputation as a creative community poised for a new era of growth, and enrich its soul.

That’s something we can all take pride in.

Steven Froias