Westport celebrates first Pride festival

Next year’s event already in the planning stages

By Ted Hayes
Posted 6/24/24

Keith Dias was raised in Westport and has spent most of his life here. Though he’s always loved his home town, he was still overwhelmed by the love and support he and partner Jessie Dias felt …

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Westport celebrates first Pride festival

Next year’s event already in the planning stages

Posted

Keith Dias was raised in Westport and has spent most of his life here. Though he’s always loved his home town, he was still overwhelmed by the love and support he and partner Jessie Dias felt Sunday, as they weren’t sure how it would go.

But Westport’s first-ever Pride Fest, held at the Holy Ghost hall on Sodom Road, surpassed every wish they’d hoped for over their months of planning the free event. Hundreds came out and by the time it ended at 5 p.m., new friends had been made, bridges had been built and a better sense of Westport’s true community had emerged.

“The positivity so outweighed any negativity,” Dias said, alluding to some opposition to the festival that he had heard about in recent months.

“We went in with the basic approach that we wanted to bring the community together. We wanted people to see that a pride event wasn’t just for LGBT people. It was for family, it was friends, it was neighbors — it’s just people.”

The festival was sponsored in part by and financially supported the mission of the South Coast LGBTQ+ Network, and planning it took about a year and a venue change.

“We had been talking about it” last year, Dias said. “There was just an absence of some sort of pride presence in town. This year, we said, ‘Let’s move forward’ and do this. It took a while — we ran into a few obstacles and weren’t sure it was going to get off the ground. But a lot of people came to our rescue.”

One of the biggest issues popped up relatively late in the game, when the Town of Westport and Diases realized that the Town Hall Annex, which had been approved as the original site of the festival, likely would be too small for the numbers expected as anticipation for the day grew.

After realizing that the annex might not be the best fit, the Diases looked around and secured the Holy Ghost property on Sodom, though it required moving the festival ahead one week — it had originally been planned for next Sunday, June 30.

As that door opened, others did too.

Local businesses stepped up with donations of ice cream, favors, a photo booth and other amenities, and Senator Mike Rodrigues contacted organizers and offered support. He backed that up by an appearance at the festival Sunday, and said a few words to the collected crowd while he was there.

From far beyond Westport, others offered help too. With a relatively short window of time, the Diases secured confirmations from a band, a drag queen show, a DJ and other performers and artists, many of whom donated their services for free or at a reduced rate. One anecdote that says everything, he said, was the fate of the gift bags given out to the first 150 attendees.

“They were gone in an hour,” he said.

Dias said he and the other organizers and volunteers came away from the day’s success with complete validation:

“It was something that the community, and especially our town, really needed but it just hadn’t been delivered. Every town is made up of all types and some are just louder than others. But I feel like there’s a lot of really good, genuine good-hearted people in Westport. And when we gave them the opportunity to support and step up, they did.”

Next year’s festival, already being planned, is scheduled for Saturday, June 21.

2024 by East Bay Media Group

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.