Robert Vitelli: The Significance of the First North Fork Pride
One year after the debut of the Hamptons’ first Pride parade, the North Fork is getting a Pride parade of its own. With experience organizing successful Queens and Long Island Pride events, the LGBT Network is debuting their three-pronged North Fork Pride with a parade, festival and tea dance on Saturday, June 24.
“The birth of North Fork Pride was really serendipitous, and a wonderful moment,” LGBT Network CEO Robert Vitelli says, crediting Lori Panarello, the organization’s volunteer leader and the owner of Craft Hair in Greenport, as the catalyst for North Fork Pride. “In a casual conversation, she talked about how great it would be to have a Pride event on the North Fork in Greenport. And we said, ‘Wow, it’s so funny because we’ve always wanted to do that!’”
Thus, the LGBT Network partnered with Panarello, as their liaison to the North Fork community, to begin organizing a Pride event that North Forkers could be proud of. “For us as an organization, we have the infrastructure and the experience, but we’re not part of that local community. And as a local community member, Lori and the folks she knew didn’t have the experience or the infrastructure, so by coming together, we are able to produce this event in a meaningful way that is tailored to the local community and involves the local community,” he adds.
As Vitelli lists the sources of inspiration for North Fork Pride, it’s clear that queer women are at the forefront. In addition to Panarello’s guidance, organizers looked to the example set by North Fork Women, a lesbian-run health education/advocacy organization, which has joined the event as a sponsor. “They represent women of all ages, but a lot of them have been the trailblazers of our movement in a lot of different ways, maybe as far back as the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s,” he says. “We, as a community, stand on their shoulders in producing an event like this.”
The LGBT Network recently held a North Fork Pride launch event at the Black Llama Bar in Greenport, and there was a “palpable excitement,” Vitelli shares, noting that the root of that excitement is best summarized in a memory from the organization’s Queens Pride event: “Someone said, ‘Wow, this is the first time that I’m going to be celebrating Pride where I live.’ And that message really resonated with me personally in thinking about the folks that live on the North Fork. … Being able to feel like they are a part of their own local community is priceless,” he says.
“North Fork Pride is for everyone. It’s for LGBT people, it’s for their families, it’s for their allies. It’s for folks who want to support, who want to come out and be a part of this event — people who are part of Greenport Village, people who live on the North Fork, people who live anywhere. Pride is for everyone,” Vitelli continues. “That’s part of what makes our organization and our movement so powerful, because it’s welcoming and inclusive, and we know that that’s part of how we advance our visibility.”
In 2023, the LGBT Network is celebrating their 30th anniversary, and realizing their dream of bringing a Pride event to the North Fork is a major part of commemorating three decades of service. In addition to reflecting on the past and celebrating the present, they’re looking ahead to the next 30 years. “I think doing this event on the North Fork is part of that: How does this represent the future vision, the future for this organization, how we will continue to serve this community and how we will expand the ways in which we serve this community?” Vitelli muses.
Beyond his involvement with Pride event planning, Vitelli coordinates the LGBT Network’s workplace education initiative including programs concerning diversity, equity, inclusion and “Why Pride,” which delves into the importance of Pride Month events.
“People feel like it’s the one day that they can really be LGBT,” he says. “They’re happy to be there because it’s a safe space. It’s the only safe space they may have. They’re smiling because maybe it’s another year that they didn’t get gay-bashed, but they had to worry about holding their significant other’s hand for fear of violence or harassment. It’s those daily realities that the LGBT community has come to accept. And Pride is trying to give voice to the fact that: No, we shouldn’t accept this; we shouldn’t have to live like this.”
Vitelli says that this year, he hopes to see people marching to prove the message that: “We’re here, we’re part of this community and every community, and we exist,” he says, pausing to consider the LGBT community’s recent need to prove that last point. “I think the word ‘existence’ is one that, quite frankly, has not been part of my vocabulary. I’ve been doing this work for almost 25 years, and I think that signals what’s different in our world,” he continues. “When you look at this anti-LGBT legislation that’s on the table — you have laws that are trying to be passed to prevent the presence of books that talk about LGBT people, laws that are preventing access of trans people to gender-affirming healthcare in whatever way that they choose, laws prohibiting drag performances in front of kids. It’s this whole notion that somehow LGBT people, or drag performers in particular, are sexualizing or indoctrinating young people. And it’s this type of harmful language that perpetuates hate and that wrongfully and inaccurately portrays LGBT people as something that we are not.”
North Fork Pride Event Details
The inaugural North Fork Pride Parade on June 24 kicks off at noon along Main Street and Front Street in Greenport. The first-ever grand marshals are Leslie Weiss, a six-decade North Fork resident, Harry Lewis, a fourth generation Greenporter, and Lynn Segerblom (aka Faerie Argyle Rainbow), who helped create one of the first rainbow Pride flags in the late 1970s.
In addition to the LGBT Network and North Fork Women, many community and religious groups and Republican and Democrat organizations have signed up to march in the historic parade. Organizers ask that any groups who would like to march register by Friday, June 16, but they’ll try not to turn anyone away.
After the parade, there’s time to grab lunch at one of Greenport’s many restaurants and still catch the Pride Festival, which takes place at Mitchell Park from 1–4 p.m. Exhibitor and vendor booths will fill the park with fabulous things to buy, and LGBT businesses and nonprofits to discover. Many stores on Main Street and Front Street are participating as storefront partners, while others plan to have activations in the street.
North Fork Pride concludes with a Tea Dance at the Greenport American Legion’s GDC Roller Skate Rink, 5–7 p.m. There will be beer, wine, food, a DJ and, obviously, dancing. Tickets are $30 at the door.
For more info, visit northforkpride.org.