Wesleyan Staff, Upward Bound Students Join Middletown PrideFEST

Mike MavredakisJune 26, 20244min
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For each of the last six years, thousands of members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community and supporting allies have descended on Main Street for a day of celebration and community-building at Middletown PrideFEST.

Led by Wesleyan’s Office for Equity & Inclusion, University community members and several students from Wesleyan’s Upward Bound program walked in this year’s parade. Wesleyan is a co-founding partner of Middletown Pride, having participated each of the seven years it has run, alongside Russell Library, and the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. Middlesex Health has also joined the partnership.

This year, more Upward Bound students joined Wesleyan’s march than during previous years, according to Debbie Colucci, assistant vice president for equity and inclusion and Title IX coordinator. Students from the Upward Bound program — a federal initiative designed to help local, low-income and first-generation students pursue secondary education — joined Wesleyan at last year’s march, but they seemed shy and hesitant to fully engage with the festivities, said Nina Vazquez-Rosa, Upward Bound coordinator. This year, the students were completely in it.

“They were mingling with the crowd and a lot of them were with their own pride flags, showing off their own identities, which was really nice,” Vazquez-Rosa said. “At the end of it, they said, ‘Nina, this was really cool, I can’t wait until next year.’”

Vazquez-Rosa said that the program’s students have been more open with their own identities since discovering Wesleyan’s involvement with Middletown Pride. “Whenever they’re at a program event, or they’re here for the summer, we really see them flourish and grow the way that they can, because they feel comfortable enough to,” she said.

Wesleyan community members walk during the Middletown PrideFEST parade. (Photo by Meka Wilson)

Jose Pagan, assistant director of alumni and parent engagement, put a spotlight on the wide-ranging programming provided by Middletown Pride, both at PrideFEST and throughout the year. This year, Middletown Pride debuted three block parties to enhance the PrideFEST experience, including two areas focused on gender-affirming care. Middletown Pride partnered with organizations to provide gender-affirming ID changes, resources, clothes, grooming and beauty consultations, and other activities like a drag artist story hour.

“This kind of open facing support that is very loud and proud year-round is super cool,” said Pagan, an active member of Wesleyan’s participation in PrideFEST. “It’s something that I really didn’t expect coming to Middletown, I think Wesleyan has a lot to do with that.”

Middletown Pride also hosts monthly social events, like game nights and trivia, grants, and scholarships. One of the scholarships this year was awarded to Bill Ollayos, area coordinator in Residential Life, who is pursuing a law degree at Quinnipiac University. Ollayos aims to become a legal advocate for LGBTQIA2S+ individuals in Connecticut. He hopes to, “create a more inclusive and equitable society where the rights and dignity of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are respected and protected,” he said.

“This recognition fuels my determination to use my legal education to make a significant impact on the rights and well-being of LGBTQIA2S+ individuals in Connecticut,” Ollayos said of the award.