Pagans on Parade
By L.M. Hutchings
Photos by Stephanie Collins
On the blustery morning of Saturday, May 14, 2005 members of Rochester Pagan Pride and other local Pagan groups gathered near Highland Park in Rochester, New York to participate in the city's annual Lilac Day Parade.
The Lilac Day Parade is one of the first events that kicks off the Lilac Festival. People from every continent visit the festival (the largest celebration of its kind in North America) each year to see and smell 22 acres blanketed by over 500 varieties of lilacs. A total of over half a million people come out to partake of international cuisines, and taste the award-winning wines of area vineyards. There is always an endless and diverse array of craftspeople, artists, and various vendors to browse. In recent years an extensive schedule of musical events have been added to the festival's activities sending attendance soaring.
After months of hard work and preparation Rochester Pagan Pride was about to make our first public appearance to the general population. Anxiety ran high and many a butterfly made a temporary home in our bellies. We had no idea what sort of reactions we would receive. The possibilities we conceived ranged from peaceful applause to stone-throwing.
As dark rain clouds loomed overhead we gathered around the Rochester Pagan Pride float, hands joined, to create a circle of protection around the vehicle. Our local Pagan Pride coordinator, Linda Hanley, led us in calling on the Goddess to keep us safe, asked for Her blessings in allowing people to accept and understand our message, and thanked Her for helping us along the way. She also threw in a request to keep the rain and thunder at bay until the parade was over.
And though the morning was threatened by thunderstorms, the Goddess came to our aid. As we moved along the first part of the parade route the sun began to shower us with warmth. We looked to the sky in thanks and held our heads high in the knowledge that we were meant to be there on that momentous day.
Our float was a beautiful site, covered with flowers and professional looking signs printed with positive slogans about Paganism and religious tolerance. They read statements like; "Witchcraft Is A Recognized Religion Protected Under The First And Fourteenth Amendments Of The United States Constitution", "The Goddess Is Alive And Magick Is Afoot", "I'm Pagan And I Vote", "Pagans Support Our Troops", "Pagans Worship A Goddess And A God", and many more. Northeast Council of W.I.C.C.A., a networking group which focuses on fostering and preserving the health of the pagan community, was also represented with a sign. A giant pentacle with a lilac, the Rochester Pagan Pride logo, stood proudly on the cab of the pink-purple-ish truck which had been loaned to us by a generous member of the community.
We were one of the last floats in the parade queue so spectators were already in light moods as we passed them. Among our first reactions was a woman who started a chain of spontaneous applause and gave us a thumbs up. "Nice job!" she called to us, then turned to a friend with "Wow!" After that there was no more anxiety and the butterflies politely left us. To top that beautiful display of support there were groups of people who very loudly applauded and cheered as we moved slowly by. Tears rimmed a few of our eyes. The emotion of the experience at times became overwhelming and all of us were struck with the fact that we were truly making a difference.
Of course there were a few scowls in the crowd, but the general response was one of interest and perhaps confusion. We saw more than one person remark "Who are they?" as they waved at the charming Pagan kids being pulled in a wagon behind our float.
At one point the pentacle that sat on the roof of the truck went toppling forward with the force of the wind. I jumped up to grab it, standing on hay bales (also generously loaned to us by a member of the community) to hold it up right. The event was televised by RNEWS (a local 24hours news station) so I figured there was no going back in the broom closet for me. I rode the float in that position the rest of the way, waving and bouncing to the marching band in front of us.
A reporter for the local paper unexpectedly asked to jump onto the back of the float to speak to Linda. He asked about our lilac-clad logo and told us that the Rochester Pagan Pride float was one of the best presented in the parade. Linda informed him that there were far more Pagans in the Rochester area than anyone knew. He and Linda exchanged numbers and he told her that he planned to do an article on Rochester Pagan Pride at the end of the summer.
We came to the half way point and the review stand where a local radio personality would speak about our float and the Rochester Pagan Pride Day Festival. Despite a little worry on our part the DJ presented us well and we breathed yet another sigh of relief.
The parade ended without incident and the entire group of us floated on a cloud of giddiness. We were thrilled with the public's response and the opportunity we had been given to march in the parade. All of us felt that this was only the beginning of wonderful things to come.
The next day we were mentioned in an article on the parade. The reporter we had made contact with (Corydon Ireland of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle) was apparently impressed with us enough to mention our float along with a small selection of others. "The parade was a tossed salad of entrants: mounted police, marching Vietnam veterans, bagpipers, Star Wars storm troopers, vintage Buicks, a contingent from Rochester Pagan Pride (their logo: a lilac in a pentagram), whizzing Shriner minicars and enough marching bands to fill a stadium."
We also heard interesting, though a bit disheartening news from those who watched the parade live on television. Apparently one of the commentators for RNEWS was taken aback by the giant pentagram on our float, saying something to the effect of "Oh my…" and as we came up the parade route the camera was quickly focused elsewhere prompting a commercial break during the coverage.
Overall the parade was a success for Rochester Pagan Pride. We are hoping to be able to enter a float again next year, though we will have to wait and see if we are allowed to do so. As of yet there has been no backlash within the Greater Rochester Community nor the Pagan Community at large.
In closing I would like to extend thanks to all those who showed up and supported us with this event. We could not have done it without you. Together we can truly make a difference and take the first steps towards peace and global acceptance of all religions.
The mission of the Pagan Pride Project is to foster pride in Pagan identity through education, activism, charity and community. Rochester Pagan Pride is in its 7th year and will be held on September 24, 2005 at Ellison Park, Rochester. For more information please visit www.rochesterpaganpride.org.