BERLIN - As multiple LGBTQ pride parades were held around the country last weekend, a high school student from town organized a rally of her own on Saturday, with multiple speakers, including a local organizer.
Katie Rochette, a sophomore at Berlin High School, held a Transgender Equality Rally at the old Pistol Creek Golf Club at 600 Spruce Brook Road on Saturday. State Sen. Terry Gerratana, D-New Britain, led the speakers, who Rochette, the daughter of Town Councilor Rachel Rochette, invited on her own.
“I’m very proud this happened in my district. I couldn’t miss it,” Gerratana said Tuesday. At the rally she discussed legislation the state passed, including giving transgender individuals legal protection in 2011, and prevention of conversion therapy - which Gerratana called quack medicine that aims to “correctly” change the sexual orientation of an individual - for LGBTQ youth.
Gerratana had a prior engagement and could only stay for about 15 minutes, she said. “Everyone brings a unique gift with them, no matter who they are,” she added.
Following Gerratana were two transgender women, Dawn Ennis and Diana Lombardi, executive director of the Connecticut TransAdvocacy Coalition.
“Your mission here, whether you decide to accept it, is to protect yourself, your loved ones and your story,” said Dawn Ennis.
Ennis made national news in 2014 when she was fired from ABC News as a producer, for “performance related-issues,” weeks after she transitioned.
“It is important to tell your stories. Let’s overwhelm our enemies of LGBT people, specifically trans people, with uplifting stories that really tell what happened to the more than 1 million successfully transition, happily secure and sane trans women and men and non binary folks too, not everything is man or woman,” Ennis said.
Lombardi, who grew up in town, said Tuesday that she shared what transitioning was like for her in 2007 when she transitioned. She said it spread like wildfire when news came out in a small town like Berlin. Old friends from her high school asked to connect on Facebook, some, including a neighbor, being totally surprised, and the feedback of her transition was overall pretty positive, she said. There were no negative comments made to her directly, she said.
With Katie Rochette not being a member of the LGBTQ community, Lombardi said she was glad to see there was an ally to show support, and that high school students devoted part of their Saturday to do so.
As Katie Rochette’s fellow high school students, members of the LGBTQ community, the Berlin community and her parents listened, the duo of Jayce Hamilton and Sophie Ennis, known as the musical group Soft Stars, also performed covers of songs of empowerment and love, such as “Brave,” by Sara Bareilles, and “Imagine,” by John Lennon.
“We both care very deeply for the LGBT community and their rights,” said Hamilton before playing. Sophie Ennis is the daughter of Dawn, and invited her mother after agreeing to perform for Katie Rochette.
Attendees from other towns and high school peers praised Katie Rochette and the attendees’ efforts.
“Gay rights in general, LGBTQ rights are very important to me,” said Sue Hubensz, of Deep River, who has attended many rallies and wasn’t able to make it to D.C. this past weekend for the march held there. “This is fabulous; this is just put on by a student. This is just extraordinary. I can’t believe this. And she put together all these speakers. I’m awed.”
Hubensz added she was getting worried about youth involvement but events like this, and others, where kids are “picking it up,” has given her hope again. “I’m 60 and I’m just so happy to see the resistance is alive,” she said.
“I’m really proud of (Katie) for organizing it” said Anna Sarrazin, a freshman at Berlin High School. “I’m passionate about this and everything that they both stand for.”
At the event was also a board of phrases with signatures and “I stand for gender equality because…,” which Katie Rochette said she would like to display in a public place so “transgender adults can see that they are supported and we stand with them.”
“I couldn’t be prouder,” said Rachel Rochette of her daughter’s efforts. “LGBT rights are human rights.”
Bracelets with “Trans rights are human rights,” on one side were also for sale, the proceeds of which were to go to the Connecticut TransAdvocacy Coalition.
“There are a lot of people at my high school who this affects, and there are unfortunately people who are harassed about it,” said Rochette. “We can overcome the power of hate with this.”
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.