Future of Pride event in Massachusetts town still uncertain

Apr 26, 2023, 12:21 PM | Updated: 12:42 pm

The future of a Pride event that included a drag show in a small Massachusetts town remains up in the air after town officials held another vote on whether to allow the event, then said that their permission is not actually required.

The North Brookfield select board voted Tuesday night to rescind a previous vote to deny a permit for the Rural Justice Network’s “Small Town Pride Day” on the town common in June because it included a drag show, which two members of the three-member board said violated restrictions on “adult entertainment.”

The board then immediately took another vote, with one member approving the event and two abstaining, meaning the motion failed.

But according to board Chair Jason Petraitis, one of the two members who abstained and who has in the past expressed opposition to a drag show, the organizers of the event don’t need town permission.

“It’s a public common, and we can’t deny them access. But we disagreed with them having the drag show, so the motion failed,” he said Wednesday. “But that does not mean they can’t still have the event on their own.”

MassEquality, an LGBTQ+ rights and advocacy group, said the vote “clearly leaves the event in jeopardy, as the space would not be reserved or permitted by the town.”

The Rural Justice Network said it is trying to figure out the future of the event planned for the town of fewer than 5,000 residents about 50 miles west of Boston.

“We are pleased that the explicit ban on drag performance has been removed,” the group said in a statement Wednesday. “But we are seeking clarification from the town about the implications of two board members refusing to expressly approve Small Town Pride, and our discussions with the ACLU and LGBTQ+ community continue.”

The Tuesday vote is the latest in a back-and-forth over the event.

The select board at a meeting in March at first approved Rural Justice Network’s request.

But the board voted 2-1 at its April 11 meeting to pull permission, ruling that a drag show was “adult entertainment.” They said the event could go on without the drag show.

The ACLU in a letter to the board dated April 18 said the town is violating the Rural Justice Network’s constitutional rights and asked the board to restore full permission for the event in order to “avoid potential litigation.”

Petraitis said he consulted with the town’s lawyer before Tuesday’s vote, who recommended allowing the event to go on to avoid potentially costly litigation.

“Town counsel told us we should let it happen, so we’ll let it happen in our own way,” Petraitis said. “I abstained because I am not going to vote for something I don’t believe.”

The ACLU in a statement said it, too, is trying to figure out what the latest vote means.

“We are seeking clarification from the town about some of the details of its latest decision,” the civil rights organization said. “We will continue to work to ensure our clients are able to host an inclusive and joyous event on nondiscriminatory terms.”

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Future of Pride event in Massachusetts town still uncertain