Friends celebrated diversity, acceptance, and love during the 7th Annual Chelsea LGBTQ Pride Celebration, hosted by Chelsea Prospers and the Chelsea LGBTQ Coalition, on June 3, in Chelsea Square. The colorful festivity included a flag raising ceremony and drag show entertainment, performed by Veronica Vandersnatch and Regina Jackson, who taught attendees how to “vogue,” imitating Vogue Magazine poses through dance and movement.
“The rainbow is a symbol of our affirmation and response to feeling pushed aside, silenced, and minimized. I see you. I hear you. I love you,” said Cheryl Katon, Vice President of Resource Development at Fenway Health, who advocates for giving strength to each other. “Our bond as human beings – beyond the LGBTQ community – is not just our shared experiences; but our time together in common struggle: working together and building trust. Getting through struggles creates deep friendships.”
Guest speaker, Wendy Mancia, Youth Elemento Program Director of Chelsea Access Center (expected to open in July at 289 Broadway), also shared her story of growing up in Chelsea, and feeling different from little girls her age because she liked to play sports and remote control games, uninterested in wearing dresses and makeup.
“In elementary and middle school, I was picked on for being a tomboy. I used to force myself to be more feminine. It felt wrong. I felt out of place because I didn’t fit in to society’s depiction of what girls were supposed to look like, and began to criticize myself for it,” explained Mancia, who remembered the liberating feeling of being confident in who she was. “When I began my sophomore year in high school, I was tired of fighting with myself. One day, I was staring at myself in the mirror, and began repeating, ‘Wendy, you are gay,’ until it felt right.”
Mancia felt surrounded by hatred and misunderstanding from her parents and peers. Her life worsened as Mancia became angry, depressed, and eventually homeless before graduating from Chelsea High School in 2009, sleeping on the couches of friends, who became her family and support system.
“I eventually graduated high school and was surrounded by amazing people who helped me realize that being gay didn’t make me unworthy. My parents realized that changing my sexual orientation wasn’t an option. I can be successful despite my sexual orientation. I developed a passion and drive to help people like me,” shared Mancia. “Our lived experiences are key to raising mental health awareness and hope. Whatever struggles we face, with the proper support, we can accomplish anything.”
Mancia’s journey of self-discovery and acceptance inspired her to pursue a career in education and psychology in the mental health field. As the director of Youth Elemento, Macia hopes to help youth, ages 16-21, in aspects such as housing, employment, leadership opportunities, training courses, and support groups, including an LGBTQ community.
“I think it’s more important than ever for us as a community to collectively stand strongly and loudly in ensuring that there is no room for bigotry or intolerance; especially against a community that has historically been the subject of hurtful discrimination,” declared Tom Ambrosino, Town Manager. “We will ensure this flag flies publically and proudly as a message that this is a community where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.”