Small Town Pride celebration returns to North Brookfield after 2nd round of fights

The ACLU of Massachusetts sued North Brookfield and two selectmen who twice refused to allow an LGBTQ+ celebration with a drag show to occur on the town common

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The town common in North Brookfield, Massachusetts, will once again be adorned in rainbows, celebrating love and the LGBTQ+ community in the annual Small Town Pride celebration.

"Small Town Pride tries to offer, like, big city experiences for the rural areas," said Rural Justice Network President Rob Orpilla.



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After two years in West Brookfield, the Rural Justice Network got approval to hold the event in North Brookfield last year, intending to rotate the festivities around the area every two years.

"At their next board meeting, the select board decided to rescind that permit because we had a drag show, and they regranted it without the drag show involved," said Corwin Castonguay, also with the Rural Justice Network.

"After doing extensive research, we've got some information that would prohibit the drag portion of that show," said Select Board chair Jason Petraitis during an April 2023 meeting.

Petraitis and vice chair John Tripp voted to change what the permit allowed — leaving out the drag show, without informing organizers — until the American Civil Liberties Union stepped in.

"Their own town counsel had told them clearly that doing this was a violation of the law," said Ruth Bourquin, senior managing attorney of ACLU of Massachusetts.

With the help of the ACLU, Small Town Pride 2023 was allowed – drag show and all.

But when organizers applied for the same permit this year, they ran into the same opposition.

"The fact that they tried to rescind our permit for a second time for the exact same reason, that didn't work the first time, we were kind of baffled," Orpilla said.

"It wasn't so much I was surprised that they fought it again, I was surprised that they kind of doubled down," added Rural Justice Network founder Samantha Laney.

This time, the ACLU sued the town, as well as the two selectmen who refused to allow the Small Town Pride event with the drag show.

"As a result of this litigation, the town of North Brookfield had to pay damages to Rural Justice Network," Bourquin said.

"Oh my God, it was a massive weight off our chests, like, 'We are going to do this,'" said Rosangeline Fleming of the Rural Justice Network.

NBC10 Boston reached out to both selectmen and was told they couldn't comment. Under the settlement agreement, they no longer have oversight of the Small Town Pride permit.

"We take it as a victory for ourselves, but also a victory for the queer communities," Orpilla said.

This year's Small Town Pride Event will be held on North Brookfield Town Common on June 29 from noon to 6 p.m.

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