Pride car caravan to meet in Manchester on June 6

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MANCHESTER — The Pride parade won't return to Bennington next month as originally envisioned because of the coronavirus pandemic, but a planned car caravan, which will have participants meeting in Manchester from three different directions to help to bring visibility to the LGBTQ community throughout the region.

The caravan, scheduled for June 6, is one of several Bennington Pride events organized this year by Queer Connect, the nonprofit group that coordinated the town's first-ever Pride parade last June.

Participants will travel from Bennington Square with a Bennington Police Department escort before heading north through North Bennington, Shaftsbury and Arlington to Manchester, joining participants from Rutland and Brattleboro, said Lisa Carton, founder and director of Queer Connect

Carton said it's difficult to estimate how many vehicles will make up the caravan but that "people are ready to do some things" to celebrate Pride. Participants may decorate their cars and play music, though the event won't feature out-of-car convening. The exact route will not be announced ahead of time, but small maps and flags will be distributed by mask-wearing greeters at the parking lot.

The town of Bennington again has committed to putting up Pride flags downtown and this year will keep them up for the entire month of June, Carton said.

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Digital events will precede and follow the caravan. At 6 p.m. on Friday, June 5, in collaboration with Planned Parenthood, Queer Connect will host a panel through a videoconferencing platform that explores what reproductive freedom means for LGBTQ people, Carton said.

The following evening, after the caravan travels through the county, Fab the Duo, a New York-based pop-rock group, will stream a performance through Queer Connect's Facebook page. The group originally had been slated to perform on top of the Vermont Arts Exchange bus amid the parade. One of the duo's members, Brendan Eprile, attended Mount Anthony Union High School.

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Throughout June, Queer Connect will also be offering "Pride-A-Grams," which allow people to buy Pride-themed goodies to be delivered to friends or family members, Carton said. Buyers may also arrange for musicians to call recipients to sing messages over the phone. Pride-A-Grams serve as one of the group's main fundraisers, according to Carton.

Sponsors for this year's Pride events include the United Counseling Service, Rights & Democracy of Bennington, Bold Strokes Books and the town of Bennington, as well as an array of local businesses and families, Carton said.

Queer Connect next month will be unveiling a new website built by a volunteer, Carton said. The site will host an online auction for artwork that, prior to the spread of the coronavirus, was set to be exhibited at Oldcastle Theatre as part of this year's Pride.

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The nonprofit organization has continued to offer an array of social activities during the pandemic, including "Lesbian Story Hour," held at 7 p.m. every Thursday through Zoom, which features author readings as well as readings of classic lesbian literature.

The pandemic's impact on the group has not been limited to its Pride-related events, according to Carton. The group has lost several board members because they needed to focus on home-schooling their children, and a search for the organization's first physical location has been delayed for at least a year, she said. Some volunteer efforts have dropped off, although the group has gained support from college students home from school.

More information about Queer Connect is available on its website, queerconnectbennington.com, and its Facebook page, facebook.com/queerconnect.

Contact Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.


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