Ahead of June's LGBTQ+ Pride Month, community members in Rutland, Vermont, are sending a message that all are welcome in their city.
"I think it's going to make Rutland a better place," predicted Karly Haven of the nonprofit group Queer Connect Rutland, which is one of the grassroots organizations working to create a Pride celebration for June in Rutland.
According to several community leaders in Rutland NECN spoke with, as well as the Pride Center of Vermont, the upcoming Pride observances are believed to be the first for Rutland.
Hearts bearing the Pride Progress flag are now lining downtown Rutland, on banners reading "All Are Welcome Here."
Avery Provin, who grew up in the Rutland area, got the ball rolling on the displays when he noticed in past years there was nothing really visible in the city for June's LGBTQ+ Pride month.
"As a queer youth in rural Vermont and rural America in general, it's hard to see yourself," Provin said. "I don't think I had any role models — queer role models — when I was younger."
Haven pointed people to this website for more information on Rutland Pride events, and said she believes the series is overdue.
"This town sometimes has a reputation as being a very conservative area," Haven said. "And we do have a lot of conservative folks here. But [the new Pride observance] just shows that we're here and we need to be visible in our community, whether they be a queer person or a person of color. I want to make sure everyone is welcome here."
Thomas Franco, who serves on the Rutland Board of Aldermen, said he believes the banners will send a message that Rutland is a place where all people should feel comfortable walking around, shopping, getting a bite to eat, or enjoying the outdoors and cultural activities.
"It's 2021. Something like this really shouldn't be that big of a deal," Franco said in an interview Wednesday with NECN. "But there are still a lot of communities across the country where this sort of thing just doesn't get talked about, right? Even referencing same-sex couples is something that has been taboo for a really long time."
Longtime journalist and nonfiction author Yvonne Daley remembers well the blowback Vermont lawmakers were met with, including Rutland's, just over 20 years ago from people worried what could come from the state's nation-leading civil unions law for same-sex couples.
Daley therefore sees the fresh banners as evidence of greater acceptance that has come with time.
"Vermont is very tolerant," Daley said. "So at some point, if it doesn't impact you, and you are free to think the way you want to think, people move on."
The sign-makers at Awesome Graphics updated an existing "I Love Rutland" campaign, hoping the project helps bring marginalized people and allies together, while sending a message well beyond Vermont's borders.
"Drawing more people to the state just means more money — more opportunity," Anthony Edwards of Awesome Graphics said. "And I think the only way to do that is by being more inclusive."
The "All Are Welcome Here" banners with the Pride Progress hearts will hang all throughout June, and will likely make a return down the road.