By Ted Waddell
CALLICOON August 24, 2001 The sleepy little hamlet of Callicoon is changing, and it may never be the same.
Known for its annual tractor parade and farmers market, local folks took a leap of faith in their community and turned out in droves to support A Day to Be Gay in the Catskills.
The celebration of lifes diversity was held Saturday afternoon at the Delaware Community Center and served notice that acceptance of ones neighbors was an integral part of life in the upper Delaware River valley, according to attendees.
The unspoken word from the gay/lesbian community was were queer, were here and we love the area, while the sentiment expressed by the straights was, Welcome. Were glad youre part of our community.
The first-ever such event in the western end of the county drew a mixed crowd of about 250 people, including several families with children. By most accounts, the folks who showed up were about equally divided between gay and straight. Events such as this traditionally attract a high percentage of gays and lesbians.
The benefit for local public radio station WJFF 90.5 FM, which airs the popular weekly program Out Loud & Queer hosted by Kathy Rieser of North Branch, raised $4,300 for WJFF, according to station manager Christine Ahern.
As a demonstration of support by the local community, an additional $1,261 was donated to the Delaware Community Center by passing the hat during the event.
While A Day to Be Gay in the Catskills went off without a hitch, the idea of a celebration featuring gay and lesbian entertainment wasnt exactly everyones cup of tea, as event producer Rieser said a lot of phone calls came into the radio station, a few people threatened to withdraw support from the community center and all our flyers came down as soon as they went up.
There was some homophobia that surfaced in the community in ugly ways, she said. People heard some nasty gay-bashing remarks from provincial, small-minded people, . . . and parents were warned to keep their children away, . . . but hey, were part of the community.
Riesers reaction to the celebration?
I think it was great, she said. It was mellow and nice, sweet and friendly.
Ahern described the event as phenomenal. . . . People came because they wanted to support the program and the wonderful diversity of our community. . . . It really made a statement.
Occasionally, that statement may have been a bit much for attendees.
While radical drag queen Yolanda knocked the crowd over with her bosomy performance, a few folks took offense at the sexually over-the-top comments of Peggy Shaw, one of the founders of the Lesbian Theatre Company Split Britches.
She should have been more aware of the environment, said a longtime local resident of the valley who asked not to identified. Talking about [male genitals] may be okay in a city nightclub, but its not okay in the middle of the afternoon next to a playground and a public swimming pool. She should have known better.
Others were fine with the performances.
A queer festival is really cool here, said Yolanda, who was described by Billboard Magazine as the drag communitys most intriguing performer since RuPaul.
Even if were all different, we have the same feelings and want the same things, added Yolanda.
L. Monique is a poet/spoken word artist who recently moved to the Catskills from the Big Apple. Destined to enlighten and entertain, she frequently tackles such hard-hitting issues as AIDS awareness, racial and social injustice and lesbian erotica.
After performing her original work The Femme which talks about being invisible as a feminine lesbian L. Monique sat quietly on the grass with two of her sisters, Donna Caesar and Diane Merrill.
Reflecting on the first event of its kind in the area, she said, Im pleasantly surprised. Thinking is apparently changing, and people are becoming more tolerant.
I think its been an incredible success for a couple of reasons, said Dave Knudsen, a member of the organizing committee.
The crowd was really diverse, and while there had been some rumblings of anti-gay demonstrations or an anti-gay event happening today, there wasnt a peep of that, he added.
As the sun began to set towards dusk, the stage crew started to pop the array of pink and purple balloons festooning the backdrop. Hearing the sound of popping, kids and a few adults approached the stage and walked off with a handful of colored balloons.
That relaxed, community atmosphere agreed with at least one visitor.
I showed up today because theres so much violence in the world, said Veronica Abato of the Barryville area. We should be more worried about our own peace of mind and compassion than who people lay down next to.
This is just life,she said. Were here to dance for a little while, and then were gone.