June has been a super busy month for everyone I know and here at Social Tinkering we have been busy too, trying to keep up with the fast pace as Vermont and Rutland finish re-opening after the last year. Empowering connections and growing happiness are our mission, so we have been proud to kick off our post-pandemic by working to coordinate the All Are Welcome Here, LGBTQIA Visibility Initiative for the Rutland Region. Like any great community-wide project, this initiative would not have been possible without all of the awesome individuals, organizations, and businesses that worked so hard together to meet our goals. I am writing this to attempt to summarize the awesomeness that this project has been on so many levels and to thank you all for stepping up and participating in the ways you’re able to.
This is the first year in history that Rutlanders have celebrated Pride as a whole community, visibly, and with boat-loads of allies stepping into their allyship to assure our LGBTQIA community members that they are all welcome here. The partners of this LGBTQIA Visibility Initiative have been blown away by the wonderful community-wide, positive response, the incredible stories that have been generously shared, the way people have stepped up and shown up to help, and by the heart-felt messages of thanks. The LGBTQIA Visibility Initiative was started in order to increase visibility for LGBTQIA people and especially youth, in the Rutland Region. LGBTQIA Pride was born out of a right to exist without persecution and is celebrated because of the adversity LGBTQIA people have had to fight daily in order to be treated equally. Visibility is one step towards letting people know they are seen and valued. This Rutland area is full of people that care so much about each other and who work so hard to ensure everyone in the community is supported and elevated. It’s projects like this that show the best of what Rutland is and we have to let that goodness rule the narrative for our community.
Last January, I met Avery Provin, a young LGBTQ+ man who grew up in Rutland and who had returned home from college during the pandemic. He quickly realized that Rutland still wasn’t doing much to show support for the LGBTQIA community here. Avery had the idea to create the LGBTQIA Visibility Initiative in order to show LGBTQIA youth growing up here that they are seen, they belong, and they are supported by their community.
With his idea in hand, Avery began reaching out to different people in the community he thought might be able to help make it all happen. He contacted Steve Costello and Mike and Tami Napolitano at Awesome Graphics and found strong support and allyship for his idea. I was introduced to Avery and quickly invited him to join Queer Connect Rutland’s monthly meetings, (Rutland’s first-ever LGBTQIA organization founded in January, 2021). We all began having conversations about how to help Avery’s idea come to fruition.
At the end of May, things had stalled and I offered my services through Social Tinkering to help coordinate this initiative moving forward. With Avery’s blessing and after many phone calls, emails, and text messages, we had published our GoFundMe fundraiser, sent out press releases, had done multiple interviews with newspapers and television sources, and 20 beautiful "I LOVE Rutland, All Are Welcome Here" banners had been produced and hung downtown in the City of Rutland. In just one month of fundraising, we have raised over $5,000 from all of you awesome Rutlanders, to pay for the banners, to purchase 2000 stickers, and 500 yard signs. In addition, the Rutland Regional Medical Center had the idea to produce their own 40’ X 10’ banner to be hung proudly on the side of the hospital. Phoenix Bookstore, Chamber & Economic Development of the Rutland Region, Awesome Graphics and most recently Wonderfeet Kids Museum all stepped up in their allyship to be locations where you can find stickers and yard signs to take home and give your friends. Fruition Fineries, Pyramid Holistic Wellness Center, Divine, Camille’s Experience Clothing, and the Rutland Area Food Co-op all have stickers to give away on their countertops. I am certain several others would’ve happily handed out the stickers and signs as well if I had had the time to reach out and ask, as well as shops not quite being fully open yet. Keep your eyes peeled around town because we still have a lot of yard signs to hand out and I am hoping to get stacks out to more locations in July.
As I write this, I am using the word WE all throughout because this could not have happened without ALL of us – all of you – stepping into your allyship and/or truth as members of the LGBTQIA community here, to make this such a tremendous success. Avery Provin had an awesome idea and reached out for help, Steve Costello and the Napolitano’s said yes and donated time, services, and money, Queer Connect and Alderman Thomas Franco provided support and funding, Social Tinkering coordinated the project and donated funds, Rutland Regional Medical Center led our community with their very visible allyship, Green Mountain Power donated funding, businesses and organizations hold space to hand out products, and each and every individual and family who donated helped to make all the beautiful products. Together we are sending out the message loud and clear that Rutland is a place where All Are Welcome Here, and we will continue to spread this message until this is what every resident and visitor in Rutland truly feels. This June, this Pride Month, you made a difference in our community. Every person can make a difference in the world around them. If you don’t know how, just ask some friends for help.
It can be difficult to measure the success of social connection projects, but the way I measure it best is by the feeling in my heart, in our hearts, as I interact with all of you. Every person I’ve talked to, including complete strangers, have shared their joy, their happiness, their stories, and their thanks with me as I’ve run all over town in the last 4 weeks connecting the dots. People brand new to stepping into their allyship have called to tell me what an impact this project has had on them. And residents of Rutland have bravely shared their lived experiences in articles in our newspapers.
Here is my takeaway from all of this: Keep showing up - ALL of us, SHOW your allyship, don’t just say you care - actively do all the little things that let people know you see them and care. Show up consciously and considerately in your everyday interactions with others, in the big and the small things, to notice, to share, to learn, and to support each other. Especially, show up to support your fellow residents who are marginalized, who still have hate-speech and nasty words thrown at them regularly, who bravely tell us their lived experiences, who are still threatened when they stand up for their right to be treated with respect as a human being, to be treated equally. We all must make an effort to pay attention to our daily interactions and show we care, for the sake of our fellow community members to feel like they are welcome and that they belong here. Often, it is the simplest of actions that make a person feel the most seen and valued.
Conscious actions are how meaningful connections are created. When we connect meaningfully with other people, we start to build trust. When we start to trust, we can grow belonging. Feeling like you belong in a place, among a group of people, is the true source of human happiness. When people are happy, we are more wholly successful and we, our families, and our communities thrive. I challenge you to ask yourself what you can do to create meaningful connections like we have during this LGBTQIA Visibility Initiative. What can you do to grow happiness for yourself, your family and friends, and for our community?
“When we center the experiences of the most marginalized, we’re able to improve the lives of all youth.”
~ Twiggy Pucci Garcon, Program Director of True Colors United
“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”
~ Margaret J. Wheatley