Gray skies and drizzling rain brought Marblehead’s pride ceremony into the very heart of Abbot Hall on Saturday, with attendees gathering outside the first-floor Select Board’s office.
The hour-long ceremony was filled with speeches and student performances before the community raised a progressive pride flag outside.
Marblehead native Sherry Maspons grew up gay in town about 50 years ago, she told the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at the ceremony.
“I always knew I was [gay],” said Maspons. “It didn’t have a name. It didn’t have a face. I didn’t know anyone who was gay.”
When she was a young adult, she began dating a coworker. They eventually moved in together, living out of a single-bedroom apartment in Marblehead.
“Everything felt right for the first time in my life,” she said. “I figured it out. I was so happy.”
And then the rumor mill began to spin. At a local market one day, she ran into a woman whom she had known for most of her life and respected.
“She looked back at me like she wanted to spit on me,” she said, adding that that look followed a verbal exchange. “This was the first time I had ever been shamed and ridiculed in public.”
Similar incidents followed in Marblehead to the point that Maspons moved to a city in Florida to escape the discrimination. She also felt shame internally — and that she would never be able to return to a hometown that she loved or have a family or a career.
“I’m gonna fast forward 39 years because now this is where my story gets happy,” she said. “I come home 39 years after I left Marblehead … I did have children, and I had my first grandbaby. I have a beautiful girlfriend, and I did get to move back home.”
She added, “It was something I never ever thought I’d be able to do. Marblehead was a soft landing for me.”
While growing up in Marblehead, the idea that the town would raise a rainbow flag simply would have been unthinkable.
“We’ve come so far, but we cannot get complacent at this point,” she said. “There are cultural wars out there going on and right now there are powerful, angry people that are once again attacking us because of whom we love, and they’re targeting little trans children.”
During the event, Marblehead Police Chief Dennis King reaffirmed his department’s commitment to protecting LGBTQ+ individuals who live, work and visit Marblehead. Select Board member Jackie Belf-Becker read a proclamation that committed Marblehead to fostering acceptance, preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and celebrating the town’s LGBTQ+ community.
The Rev. James Bixby of Clifton Lutheran Church recognized the challenges, exclusionary practices and outright hate faced by LGBTQ+ individuals within the religious community.
“What I can offer is my lament that the bounty of gifts particular to each one of you in your own special way — gifts including the fullness of who you are, and your sexuality and gender — was missed by the church,” Bixby said. “We are impoverished for that exclusion.”
The event, organized by the Marblehead Pride Committee, included poetry readings from Village School’s sixth-grade students Ali H. Barnes and Lily Gurevich. Members of Marblehead High School’s Jewel Tones a cappella group sang a song. Each elicited widespread applause and cheers.
Many in the speaker lineup reflected on how far the fight for LGBTQ+ rights has come, but also acknowledged that the fight continues.
“The work of diversity, equity and inclusion is a process. It’s not a single event,” said Marblehead Public Schools Superintendent John Buckey, with his husband, Kevin, sitting nearby. “Today, as we raise the pride flag, we applaud the progress we’ve made, reflect on the challenges that remain and recommit to the difficult work required to achieve our shared goals.”
Buckey added, “Each of you here today is an ally in this work.”