COVENTRY — At the Coventry Town Hall, a rainbow flag flies proud.
“It means a lot to know that Coventry, as a town, supports everyone that is represented on that flag,” Zachary Machado, a 2022 Coventry High School graduate, said Friday, standing beneath the Progress Pride flag that he and Rayne DeCosta, a rising senior at the school, had just hoisted to the top of a flagpole.
“This sure is a step toward the right direction.”
Local officials, municipal employees, school administrators and various other community members had gathered to watch as the symbol of support for LGBTQ+ people was raised at the town hall for the first time ever.
“This is a really big deal for this town,” councilor Hillary Lima said to those gathered, before explaining why the Progress Pride flag, in particular, had been chosen to fly in Coventry.
A modification of the traditional Pride flag, the Progress Pride flag represents the diversity within the LGBTQ+ community. In addition to six rainbow stripes, it features a chevron of black and brown stripes, meant to represent LGBTQ+ people of color, as well as pink, white and light blue, for transgender and nonbinary people.
The black stripe also represents those with AIDS, and the stigma they’ve faced, Lima explained.
“These colors were placed in the shape of an arrow pointing to the right to show forward movement and illustrate the progress toward inclusivity that still needs to be made,” she added.
The flag was raised as part of Pride Month in Coventry, an occasion recognized in a proclamation read by town councilors during their meeting earlier this week.
“This marks a time to reflect on the progress that has been made for the LGBTQIA+ community in breaking down systemic discrimination and shedding societal stigmas that many Americans have endured for generations, and the road that still lies ahead,” the proclamation reads.
It also marks a time to celebrate equality, understanding and respect, it continues, and to “applaud the courage and leadership of our local youth, who are dedicated to fostering a community that encourages inclusion and acceptance.”
While scrolling through Facebook one day, Lima said Monday, she came across a post about an Oaker Ally Day that took place last month at Coventry High School.
Machado, with help from student council administrator Lyndsey Sweeney, hosted the inaugural event to show support for the LGBTQ+ community and to raise funds for the Trevor Project, a nonprofit dedicated to suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth.
“This year was probably one of the hardest years thatI’ve had at Coventry High School, with hate and discrimination,” Machado said of the impetus behind Ally Day.
Machado, who was president of the student council, said he'd been especially excited to see the enthusiasm of school staff members participated in the event.
“It’s nice to know that you have someone in your corner,” DeCosta added.
In fact, Ally Day is what inspired Lima to introduce the proclamation recognizing June as Pride Month in Coventry.
“I thought, if our youth can be as brave and courageous to show that they want a safe space, and to accept others, and bring more kindness to our community, then I can do the same,” she said.
Jennifer Ludwig, vice president of the council, and councilor James LeBlanc both said Monday they were in full support of the proclamation, and councilor Kimberly Shockley added that she’s proud to live in a town committed to ensuring everybody feels welcome and safe.
“It means the world just to know that we have a town that supports everyone,” Machado said.
DeCosta, who also attended the council meeting, echoed that, adding that it’s a great comfort to live in a place where elected officials are supportive of the LGBTQ+ community.
“People cannot thrive in a place where they are not accepted,” DeCosta said. “By doing this, you are showing us, and the people in my community, that we are accepted and we are appreciated and are part of this community — that’s a place where you can thrive.”
DeCosta also lauded the local leaders who organized Friday’s flag-raising event for setting an example of acceptance for residents of the town.
“When someone in a leadership position shows their support, it trickles down to people who look to them,” DeCosta said.
Ludwig, Rep. Tom Noret, Coventry Police Chief Frederick J. Heise, Coventry Public Schools Supt. Craig Levis, School Finance Director Harold Sands, Coventry Parks and Recreation Director Raena Blumenthal and Town Manager Benjamin Marchant were among those who watched as Machado and DeCosta raised the colorful flag.
When it arrived at the top of the pole, a moment of silence was observed.
“This is super important,” DeCosta said of the flag raising, as people around him were enjoying cupcakes decorated with rainbow sprinkles and topped with sayings like 'love is love' and 'proud of who I am' from Victoria’s Sweets and Bakery. “It’s a really great step for us.”
In conversations that she’s had with others regarding Pride Month, Lima said some have asked her things like, “what if you’re on the wrong side of history?”
“If the wrong side of history is accepting too many people, and being too kind,” she said, “then I can live with that.”