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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Pride Center Leader Steps Down, Interim Director Named

Posted By on Thu, Oct 5, 2017 at 6:17 PM

The executive director of the Pride Center of Vermont has stepped down from the post after just five months on the job. Susan Hartman resigned effective Monday, according to Rex Butt, the nonprofit’s interim executive director.

“Susan was aware that it wasn’t working, and she had the guts to say, ‘You know, I’m not the person to continue,’” Butt said. “So she said it’s time for us to make a change.”

Hartman moved to Vermont from Fayetteville, Ark. She started the job May 1 and replaced Kim Fountain, who left the Pride Center in September 2016 after five years on the job.

Hartman could not be reached for comment Thursday, and Butt said she was out of town on a previously scheduled vacation. But in an interview with Vermont Public Radio in May, Hartman said she’d worked in nonprofits since she was 18.

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Heated Forum Leads Pride Center to Denounce 'Mister Sister' Name

Posted By on Thu, Mar 2, 2017 at 11:41 PM

Elena Littlebug of Burlington - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Elena Littlebug of Burlington
Update, March 3, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: The Pride Center issued a statement Friday saying it will not tolerate hate speech and that it "rebukes the name Mister Sister." See the full statement below.

The Pride Center of Vermont board announced Thursday at a packed public forum that it will condemn the "Mister Sister" name of the gay bar proposed in Winooski.

At least 80 people attended the "trans town hall" in Burlington. Almost all of them spoke out against the name, saying it was a verbal slam on trans women.

Many speakers also hurled criticism at the Pride Center for failing to initially take a strong public stand against the name. The barrage went on for close to an hour before the board announced its new position on the matter.

"The Pride Center choosing not to take a side is taking a side. Inaction is action in favor of the status quo," said Ada Morse, a trans woman from Burlington, before the board announcement.

It would be hard to support the Pride Center going forward, Morse added, "because you all don't have my back."
Dusti Parker of South Burlington - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Dusti Parker of South Burlington

Dusti Parker, a South Burlington trans woman who has long been an activist, said she "came out of retirement" to weigh in on the issue. The name is belittling, she said.

"It's a slur name," she said. "It's a bad name. It's a hurt name."

She suggested a boycott of the bar and a huge rally to protest the name.

The owner of the proposed bar, Craig McGaughan, is a gay man who has said in public statements that he sees the name as a gesture of inclusivity.

Robert Toms, owner of the now-closed 135 Pearl gay bar in Burlington, attended the meeting to express solidarity with people who are hurt by the Mister Sister name.

"This is really ripping me apart," he said about the controversy within the LGBTQ community.

It would be great for the region to again have a gay bar, but not if the name offends part of that community, Toms suggested. McGaughan needs to open his ears and get his "ego out of the way," Toms said.

Robert Toms, owner of the now-closed 135 Pearl gay bar in Burlington - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Robert Toms, owner of the now-closed 135 Pearl gay bar in Burlington
McGaughan did not go to the forum at the Champlain Senior Center. He sent a representative, Maura O'Neill, who said McGaughan decided not to attend after conferring with Pride Center interim director Josie Leavitt. They agreed that McGaughan's presence would be like pouring gasoline on the fire, O'Neill said.

Many people expressed frustration that McGaughan has not been willing to meet with Pride Center leaders, and that he deleted some comments from the voluminous debate about the issue on Facebook.

O'Neill said during the first part of the meeting that McGaughan was not going to change the name of the bar. But after the forum, she took a more conciliatory tone. "I'm absolutely going to give this feedback to him, that's all I can say," she said.

At least five board members attended the meeting. They left the room at one point and went into the hallway to confer, then returned with the announcement that they would take a stand and issue a new statement on the matter Friday.
Paul Sisson, co-chair of the Pride Center of Vermont board - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Paul Sisson, co-chair of the Pride Center of Vermont board

Paul Sisson, co-chair of the Pride Center board, said the meeting provided a "tremendous education."

He apologized on behalf of the board for not initially taking a stand. "We stumbled a little bit," Sisson said to the crowd. "We weren't sure. We were uninformed."

Sisson said that as a result of the meeting the board was "hearing loud and clear" that the name is unacceptable. "We no longer support the name of that bar," Sisson said.

People cried, swore and made heated comments about verbal bullying, shaming and degrees of persecution. The discussion also touched on privilege, gender and sexual identity, with numerous speakers saying the "T," or trans population, in the LGBTQ acronym is the most vulnerable and marginalized group in the community.

It took at least 45 minutes to get the crowd to agree on the ground rules for the discussion, and some people got so frustrated with the linguistic blockage that they left the event in a huff.

The crowd also decided by consensus not to allow TV cameras or newspaper still photography, which upset some attendees. Reporters with notebooks were allowed. Parker, the activist from South Burlington, initially walked out in protest partly over the decision to bar TV cameras.

"This is supposed to be a public forum ... The media needs to be there and not be excluded," Parker said after she walked out.

Ultimately she returned to the meeting and took the microphone several times.

A Seven Days photographer was not allowed to photograph the meeting, but shot some of the participants once it had broken up.

Elena Littlebug, a trans woman from Burlington, views the Mister Sister name as deeply offensive and called out both the bar owner and the Pride Center during the meeting.

By the end of the forum, though, some of the harshest criticism had subsided. Littlebug was feeling much better, and thanked the crowd for saying the right things, proclaiming: "I love you guys."

The Pride Center issued its statement Friday evening. Read it in its entirety below:

The Pride Center of Vermont stands with our trans community. At the Pride Center, we serve all spectrums of the LGBTQ community and we want to ensure any event we hold is in a location where all feel welcome. In support of this mission, we cannot hold events at any place that uses hate speech as its name. We cannot accept donations from any place with hate speech as its name. We condemn the use of hate speech in promotional materials and especially on signage. The Pride Center of Vermont rebukes the name "Mister Sister."

Last night's trans community forum was well attended by our community and the media. It was heated, emotional, and hopefully cathartic to all involved.
The trans community bravely came to advocate for their humanity and right to be treated with dignity and respect. Last night we gave you a microphone and a direct line to the Board of Directors at the Pride Center. You told us this is hate speech. You told us that we had failed you. You demanded that we act. We heard your voices. We felt your feelings. We witnessed faces acknowledging the painful words shared by trans people which lead to moments of learning.

We cannot tell what the future holds, but we hope that our community mends and we will continue to maintain our accountability to the needs expressed by the trans community.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

'Mister Sister' Controversy Leads to Pride Center of Vermont Resignations

Posted By on Tue, Feb 28, 2017 at 1:55 PM

  • Molly Walsh
  • Oak45
Two Pride Center of Vermont board members have resigned amid growing uproar over the proposed Mister Sister gay bar in Winooski.

The board members, Bailey Cummings and Timber Adamson, told Seven Days Tuesday that they wanted the Pride Center to issue a statement criticizing the name of the bar, which they view as an insult to trans women.

Instead, the board's executive committee decided to hold a town meeting-style forum on trans issues Thursday and get more feedback from the community. The resigning board members saw that as a cop-out.

"Basically the name of this bar is a transmisogynistic slur," Cummings said. "And I feel strongly as community leaders that the Pride Center is responsible for standing up for our trans community members, and coming out against a slur."

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Planned Winooski Gay Bar Named 'Mister Sister' Creates Rift

Posted By on Mon, Feb 27, 2017 at 8:47 PM

Drinks being served at Oak45, which will reopen as a gay bar - COURTESY OF OAK45
  • Courtesy of oak45
  • Drinks being served at Oak45, which will reopen as a gay bar
The Pride Center of Vermont will host a town hall meeting on trans issues Thursday in response to a deepening controversy over the name of a gay bar planned for Winooski.

The proposed name, Mister Sister, generated a raft of critical comments over the weekend from people on Facebook who said the name is a slur for trans women.

The debate opened a rift in the LGBTQ community partly because the owner of the proposed bar, Craig McGaughan, is a gay man who has so far refused to change the planned name or meet with the leader of the Pride Center.

McGaughan announced Friday on Facebook that he would close his wine bar at 45 Main Street, Oak45, on Tuesday and would then reopen soon as the area's only gay bar. Burlington's 135 Pearl closed in 2006.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Walters: Senate Democrats Elect Becca Balint as Majority Leader

Posted By on Wed, Jan 4, 2017 at 10:06 PM

Sen. Becca Balint (D-Windham) - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sen. Becca Balint (D-Windham)
The Vermont Senate on Wednesday afternoon took another step in a gradual generational shift.

Meeting hours after the legislature convened for the year, the Democratic caucus unanimously chose Sen. Becca Balint (D-Windham) to serve as majority leader. Earlier Wednesday, the full Senate formally elected Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden), another of the Senate’s youngest members, as president pro tempore.

Balint, an educator and newspaper columnist from Brattleboro, replaces Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden) as the chamber’s Democratic leader. Baruth announced in late October that he would step down after four years in the post. Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden) publicly considered seeking it but informed her colleagues in recent days that she would not.

At Wednesday’s caucus meeting, Balint was nominated as part of a “team” with veteran Sen. Mark MacDonald (D-Orange) running for majority whip. The caucus took a single vote, simultaneously electing Balint and MacDonald without dissent.

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Friday, November 11, 2016

After Election, Burlington Rally-Goers Insist ‘Love Trumps Hate’

Posted By on Fri, Nov 11, 2016 at 4:50 PM

An anti-Trump rally Friday in City Hall Park - SASHA GOLDSTEIN
  • Sasha Goldstein
  • An anti-Trump rally Friday in City Hall Park
Once Donald Trump becomes president, Chris Hudson said, she’ll have a target on her back.

The 34-year-old artist is a transgender woman and a lesbian small-business owner. She lives in rural Isle La Motte, where Trump tallied (four) more votes than Democrat Hillary Clinton. Oh, and her wife, Shelly Hail, is a permanent resident from Israel whose visa is up for review next year.

Trump, in other words, stands opposed to her sexuality and lifestyle in more ways than one, she said.

On Friday, Hudson stood in front of a crowd in Burlington’s City Hall Park and led a diverse group of some 200 people in a raucous chant of “Love Trumps Hate!”

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Kim Fountain to Leave Pride Center of Vermont

Posted By on Tue, Jul 12, 2016 at 3:16 PM

  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Kim Fountain
Pride Center of Vermont executive director Kim Fountain will step down in September after five years on the job.

Fountain, the subject of a recent profile in Seven Days, announced in an email Tuesday that she’s taken a new job as chief operating officer at the Center on Halsted in Chicago.

According to its website, the center is the “Midwest’s most comprehensive community center” serving LGBTQ people.

In Vermont, many credit the 48-year-old Fountain with revitalizing the Pride Center, which was struggling financially at the time of her arrival. In recent months, after several tragic local and national events involving LGBTQ people, Fountain became a de facto spokesperson for the community.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Photos: Burlington Mourns the Orlando Shooting Victims

Posted By on Tue, Jun 14, 2016 at 11:12 AM

A large crowd marched through downtown Burlington on Monday evening to remember the victims of Sunday's shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando. The shooting left 49 victims dead and many more injured.

Police estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 turned out to the march and rally organized by the Pride Center of Vermont.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Vermonters Celebrate Supreme Court Ruling on Gay Marriage

Posted By on Fri, Jun 26, 2015 at 8:11 PM

Rep. Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg) - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Rep. Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg)
When a jubilant Rep. Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg) — one of Vermont's first openly gay lawmakers, who led the charge for civil unions and same-sex marriage —strode up the steps of Burlington's City Hall and, with a flourish, popped open a rainbow-colored umbrella, he captured the mood of the crowd before him. 

A large group gathered on short notice Friday evening to celebrate the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling that same-sex marriage is a right protected by the Constitution. People hugged, cried, and wished one another, "Happy Decision Day."

"Today, love won," said Kim Fountain, executive director of the Pride Center of Vermont.

Several people reflected on Vermont's pioneering efforts — first allowing civil unions and then becoming the first state to legalize gay marriage legislatively.

House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) recalled weeping after lawmakers successfully overrode Governor Jim Douglas's veto of Vermont's gay marriage bill. "I went back to my office and just felt the release of having done something so monumental," he said.

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Supreme Court Upholds Same-Sex Marriage; Burlington to Celebrate

Posted By on Fri, Jun 26, 2015 at 11:33 AM

Kim Fountain preparing to talk to reporters at Pride Center of Vermont. - MATTHEW ROY
  • Matthew Roy
  • Kim Fountain preparing to talk to reporters at Pride Center of Vermont.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Friday that same-sex couples have a right to wed, making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

Pride Center of Vermont is planning a 5:30 p.m. event Friday evening on the steps of Burlington City Hall to celebrate the landmark decision — and expects a crowd.

"This is such a significant moment in LGBTQ history," said Kim Fountain, executive director of Pride Center Vermont, in a statement. "Just 50 years ago, there were no rights protecting LGBTQ people. Today, the highest court in the country handed down a decision consistent with polls that show overwhelming public support for marriage equality."

The center noted that Vermont has been a national leader in the fight for marriage equality. In 2000, Vermont became the first state to offer civil unions to same-sex couples. In 2009, the state became the first to legislate a marriage-equity law.

As soon as the SCOTUS decision was announced, Fountain said, phones and social media lit up — and people are still texting, Facebooking and tweeting hours later. People are "ebullient, absolutely joyous," she said. 

"I'm just so excited with how far we've come," said Hillary Boone, a former board co-chair for the center.

People at the center on Friday noted that many rights accompany legal marriage — issues related to insurance, inheritances and more. "This helps to protect those folks," Fountain said.

The Pride Center is inviting people to the steps of Burlington City Hall tonight to share their stories and to thank the people who've worked for years to further the issue.

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