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SUNY Potsdam students organize St. Lawrence County’s first gay pride parade


POTSDAM — Gloomy, rainy weather didn’t keep rainbows out of the village Saturday afternoon.

Rainbow confetti sprinkled the public parking lot in Ives Park, as rainbow flags and banners waved during St. Lawrence County’s first gay pride parade.

Students and community members and leaders gathered in the park before parading down Main Street, onto Pierrepont Avenue and toward the SUNY Potsdam campus. The parade was organized by a class of 37 SUNY Potsdam students who took a course this semester on gay and lesbian issues taught by John D. Youngblood.

The students decided on a pride parade as their class project and worked with village officials and law enforcement to make it happen.

“I’m overwhelmed and super proud of them,” Mr. Youngblood said. “The students wanted to not only engage in an educational component, but also bring awareness to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) communities here in the north country.”

Margaret K. Casler, a creative writing senior at SUNY Potsdam, was one of the students in the class.

She said she hopes the parade will be held each year for years to come.

“When people aren’t able to do the things they should be as a human right, it’s not really so much a political thing as it is a human rights type of thing,” she said. “I’m really excited about the variety of the turnout because we have a church group, our class, sororities and fraternities here today.”

Miss Gay of St. Lawrence County 2014, Amber L. Skyy, led the parade.

“It’s fabulous,” she said. “We have to get this rolling up here in the north country.”

Students from other area colleges walked in the parade to show their support, and a group from Fort Drum wore “Army Strong” shirts while waving rainbow flags.

Potsdam Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis joined in the celebration.

The Rev. Laurena M. Will, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Ogdensburg, led a group of church members who marched in the parade with a large banner of support for the LGBT community.

“God’s love is unconditional and for everyone. Scripture is silent on homosexuality,” the Rev. Ms. Will said. “I’m so excited that these students saw something missing in the north country, which is nourishment for all these people who are cast aside.”

The Rev. Ms. Will said she expects the community to embrace an event celebrating gay rights because “everybody either has a family member or a friend who is gay.”

After the parade, the students and community rallied in SUNY Potsdam’s Barrington Student Union with live musical performances from students, a drag show and clouds of confetti.

The rally was one of the first campus events incoming President Kristin G. Esterberg has attended. She spoke at the rally and thanked the students for putting the event together.

“I am so proud of these students,” she said. “They are courageous and creative and they’ve done an amazing job. I think that this is a particularly important event because it highlights diversity in all of its aspects, so I’m really proud to celebrate and support and just be with the students.”

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