“Over the Rainbow” Dance
Nets a Pot of Gold!
In case you haven’t noticed, NAGLY and our NAGLY North satellite have been in the news a bit lately. What started out as a NAGLY North social event for LGBTQ+ high school students in Newburyport unexpectedly became a flashpoint in the unrelenting culture wars that continue to plague us, even here in progressive Massachusetts in 2022!
In a nutshell, the youth of our NAGLY North satellite, working closely with our partners at Newburyport Youth Services (NYS), planned a dance. They chose a date (Friday, May 13), booked a venue (St. John’s Masonic Lodge), and hired a well-known local DJ (Miz Diamond Wigfall, who happens to perform in drag). All was going along swimmingly until a certain individual on Cape Cod (!), with right-leaning political aspirations, decided to make an issue of the fact the Miz Wigfall also performs at 21+ events where her show is decidedly, and appropriately, of a more adult nature.
Said political aspirant started making phone calls and speaking with the press and within days, a solitary high ranking official at the Grand Masonic Lodge in Boston unilaterally made the decision to withdraw permission for the dance to be held at St. John’s Lodge. It should be noted that this decision was made without local input from St. John’s Lodge, St. Mark’s Lodge, or the Masonic Temple Association.
When the news broke that the all-inclusive youth dance for Newburyport high schoolers was in jeopardy of being canceled, the outcry could be heard all over the North Shore, and certainly here in Witch City Mall in Salem!
Long story short, expressions of support came from every possible corner of our North Shore community and beyond. One Newburyport business reached out to offer their production floor space for the dance. A local dentist offered to cover the cost to rent an alternate venue for the dance. Newburyport’s Mayor Sean Reardon penned an eloquent statement of support, Congressman Seth Moulton took to Twitter to share his thoughts, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ+ Youth sent a heart-warming letter of support to NYS and NAGLY. Local churches were quick to step up, not only with statements of support, but with offers of space in their facilities to house the dance. Donations of food, supplies, and decorations poured into NYS and financial contributions to NAGLY were quick to follow.
Ironically, one of the most surprising developments was a call to NAGLY from a representative of St. John’s Masonic Lodge. Apparently members of the local lodge were aghast at what had happened and were committed to doing everything they could to put things right.
In the end, an emergency meeting of the Board of Directors and Board of Trustees of the Masonic Temple Association was convened with representatives of St. John’s Lodge and St. Mark’s Lodge. The result was a unanimous vote to reinstate permission to hold the event at the Masonic Center AND to waive all fees for use of the building. Lodge members also volunteered their services to help ensure the event’s success.
And so, the “Over the Rainbow” event took place this past Friday evening as originally planned, only bigger, better, and with a tremendous showing of community support. Some 100 high school students from all over the North Shore were greeted by an army of Pride flag-waving, enthusiastically applauding supporters, including members of the Women in Action Huddle Group, some proud Masons, and what appeared to be half of the population of the City of Newburyport. Ironically, the anticipated protest by the much-aggrieved concerned parents never materialized.
Ultimately, what the haters wanted to prevent became a rallying point for the more fair-minded people of the North Shore. All of the controversy over the “Over the Rainbow” dance ultimately netted a very real “pot of gold” for LGBTQ+ youth, for Newburyport Youth Services, and for the North Shore Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth. The haters presented us with a golden opportunity to reveal the true nature of our North Shore residents, and our community did not fail.
As we head into PRIDE month in about two weeks, I can’t tell you how proud I am of our partners at Newburyport Youth Services for the outstanding job they did in pulling off this event. I am equally proud of our North Shore community and proud to live and work in a community that regularly demonstrates its deep commitment to making the world a more welcoming place for all. But, as proud as I am of the way this situation was resolved, I cannot ignore the deeply troubling fact that there are haters out there whose actions have the potential to do great harm to LGBTQ+ youth.
In March of this year, NBC News reported that lawmakers across the country had already filed some 238 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, most of them targeting transgender people. The annual number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills filed has been skyrocketing in recent years, from 41 in 2018 to a record 238 in less than three months of this year. LGBTQ+ people are in the crosshairs, and our youth feel it acutely. That’s why it is more important than ever that LGBTQ+ youth have an organization like NAGLY where they can find shelter from the storm and a supportive community where they can safely and bravely grow into the authentic persons they know themselves to be.
This PRIDE month, I hope you will take opportunities to be proud of yourself, proud of (most of) your community, and proud to be part of the NAGLY family. And, I hope that that pride leads you to take action whenever and wherever you can to fight bigotry, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and all expressions of hate. For our part and with your help, the NAGLY Board of Directors, staff, and volunteers will work every day to continue NAGLY’s 30-year tradition to “honor, respect, educate, and empower GLBTQ+ youth.”
Yours in PRIDE,
James Giessler, Executive Director/CEO
North Shore Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth, Inc.
NAGLY North welcomes youth in grades 6-12 from any North Shore town
and meets on first and third Wednesdays of the month
from 5:30-7:00pm at the Newburyport Senior Center.
For more information on the North Shore Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
and Transgender Youth, to volunteer, or donate, visit https://www.nagly.org.
For additional reading:
Newburyport News Story on Potential Cancellation
Local Clergy Offer Their Support
Seth Moulton Fires Back
GBH Reports on Community Support for Dance
City of Newburyport Press Release on Final Outcome
Spike in Filing of Anti-LGBTQ+ Legislation