Photos by: John Shishmanian/ NorwichBulletin.com
Published June 30, 2022 4:26 AM
By Matt Grahn, The Bulletin
NORWICH — Around 75 people showed up to the first Pride flag-raising at Norwich City Hall Tuesday, the date marking 53 years since the start of the Stonewall Riots.
The event was days after Connecticut announced a partnership with the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, becoming the first U.S. state to do so, and some in Norwich say there is potential in attracting more LGBTQ+ people to the city.
“We’re thrilled and honored to join IGLTA in their mission of advancing LGBTQ+ travel,” Noelle P. Stevenson, director of the Connecticut Office of Tourism, stated in a press release. “The LGBTQ+ community has always been an integral part of Connecticut’s fiber and the state’s tourism industry, and we’re putting that message front and center all year round in everything we do.”
Last week's announcement included the launch of an LGBTQ+ section on CTVisit.com, the state's tourism site. Looking at places the site mentions, the recommendations closest to Norwich are the casinos.
Norwich resident Matt Becker, who is gay, noted that the casinos have their own Pride events, while Norwich does not. He said the city should give people coming into the area for Pride events at the casinos a reason to visit Norwich before or after.
“It’s a big, overlooked group for Norwich,” Becker said.
JD Donner, who is gay and the owner of Antenna Independent Salon, said the city has potential to be like a small Provincetown, Massachusetts, by adding more specialty shops and cafes to the downtown.
“The LGBTQ community definitely has disposable income, and we love to shop,” Donner said.
Donner also said the city should continue attracting and supporting diverse businesses, as the city has always been supportive of small business needs. Most recently, Antenna was one of eight Norwich businesses receiving a grant from the American Rescue Plan. The $37,500 would cover half the cost of a platform lift, so the salon can be Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.
“I’ve never had anybody hesitate to reach out and help me in all my years of business,” Donner said,” NCDC is fantastic, the (Greater Norwich Area Chamber Of Commerce) does a great job.”
Heather Pigg, who is bisexual and the owner of Midnight Aether, said her store was a part of a state campaign this past holiday season called “Do Your Thing Connecticut” featuring small businesses around the state. Pigg said attracting more LGBTQ+ people to the city comes down to awareness.
“While I understand not every business wants to say ‘hey look, we’re queer-owned,' I think it just comes down to putting it out there, and letting the appropriate channels know who is a queer business or ally,” Pigg said.
With the flag-raising ceremony itself, which featured speeches from local leaders and members of the community, Pigg said she was concerned that someone opposed to LGBTQ+ people would interfere with the event, but said she’s happy it turned out as well as it did.
“To see it publicly done is welcoming and fantastic for everyone here,” Pigg said.
In a more general sense, Becker said Norwich still has more to do with promoting the LGBTQ+ community, as the city has events showcasing all the diverse backgrounds of the city.
“We’re a very open city, we have a lot to show, and we should embrace it,” Becker said. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”
Donner said the city has been making progress, especially due to younger individuals in the community.
“As the younger generation comes in, they’re saying ‘here we are, and we need a voice,’ so I’m glad I’m not the only one,” Donner said. “They’re stepping up, proud of who they are.”