Ayden Carlson admitted to being pretty excited Thursday, minutes before speeches, proclamations, brief history lessons and a flag-raising ceremony to kick off PRIDE Month.
Ayden, a soon-to-be senior at Batavia High School, is the game coordinator and a youth leader for the LGBTQ outreach agency GLOW OUT and the youth league ACT OUT, which is part of new summer initiatives funded by the state Office of Mental Health, led by Executive Director Sara Vacin.
“It’s the first year that this has happened. I’m also staying on for next year, so I will be doing the same thing next June. I’m very, very excited because I’ve met a lot of wonderful people through this program. And it’s nice to have a place where you feel like you belong, especially being in a marginalized community,” Ayden said. “It’s great to meet other people who are like you, so you don’t feel as alone. This means to me celebrating pride and how you don’t need to be scared of who you are. It’s just your identity. And no matter what month or what day, you deserve to feel it is okay."
Has that not always been the case?
“No, that definitely has not been the case. I have very much grown into my identity. There was a long time where I had a lot of internalized homophobia, where I was very scared of being my true self,” the 16-year-old said. “And thankfully, through this program, and Sara has been a huge motivator and a huge helper to me, I’ve been able to grow through a lot of those feelings.”
Ayden stood alongside Genesee County Legislature Chairwoman Shelley Stein as she read a proclamation about PRIDE Month and its now rightful place on the county books. It was one of two proclamations on the line-up for the day, also joined by one sent from state Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Stein began that “Whereas our nation was founded on the principle of equal rights for all people. But the fulfillment of this promise has been long coming for many Americans, and whereas some of the most inspiring moments in our history have arisen from the various civil rights movements that have brought one group after another from the margins into the mainstream of American society.”
“And whereas everyone should be able to live without fear of prejudice, discrimination, violence, hatred based on race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation, and whereas LBGTQ Pride celebrations have taken place around the country every June to commemorate the beginning of the Stonewall riots, and whereas the month of June is celebrated as LBGTQ Pride Month nationally, and whereas the county of Genesee has a diverse LBGTQ community that includes people of all ethnicities, religions and professions,” Stein said. “And now, therefore, be it proclaimed that the Genesee County Legislature proclaims recognition of the month of June 2023 as Pride Month and urges all residents to respect and honor our diverse community and celebrate and build a culture of inclusiveness and acceptance, and be further in witness whereof we have here to set our hand and affixed the seal of the Genesee County Legislature this day, the first of June 2023.”
While everyone in the gathering of some 25 to 30 adults and children remained quiet during the reading, Ayden’s face spoke in a special way, with a sincere smile that captured the moment.
Ayden shared an opening message to honor veterans. Sadly, throughout much of history, “LGBTQ+ veterans had to hide their identities while serving in the military,” Ayden said.
“For many, this greatly complicated and added to the stresses of war. So, we wanted to start by saying thank you, and that we hope you know how grateful we are for your extraordinary service. If you would please join me in saying the pledge of allegiance, and while doing so, take a moment to give gratitude to these soldiers and their hidden loved ones who also sacrificed a lot.”