Clayton celebrates Pride event with keynote speaker, energized crowd and excited organizer

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Jun. 26—CLAYTON — People from all over the state gathered underneath the pavilion at Frink Park to celebrate Clayton's first official Pride celebration on Saturday.

It felt joyous around Frink Park, especially for Maggie Rizer, the keynote speaker at the first Clayton River Pride event. Mrs. Rizer was a longtime supermodel who grew up in the north country and saw her father die of HIV after having been gay in a time when it wasn't as inclusive as it might be today. She grew up with the education and fight to stand up for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer community, and now she's looking over Clayton seeing such progress.

"I also want to give that education to my child, to show that sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, skin color and religion are part of who you are but not who you are," she said to a crowd gathered under the pavilion. "I hope to teach them that everyone's differences are what makes the world a wonderful, beautiful place. I hope it teaches them not only to show acceptance to all but to also embrace whoever it is they are deep inside or whoever they wish to become."

She said she was particularly amazed at Clayton for doing its part in showing what the LGBTQ community has grown into.

"If I could have imagined this day in 1996 with the pride flag flying in the north country, I probably wouldn't have believed it," Mrs. Rizer said. 'It says so much to the distance we have made and the progress we have made for the fight and fire inside the LGBTQ community that we are here today."

Vinnie Bonfante came with his husband from Buffalo just for a wedding, not knowing about the event.

"It was so funny, when we left I said to my husband, bring your pride shirt," he said, "maybe it's pride weekend."

The couple got there and didn't hesitate to attend what he said was an amazing event.

"The man who put this on did such a good job," Mr. Bonfante said.

That man is Alex Hazard, who spent months planning the event after having had to postpone the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Here's the thing," Mr. Hazard said, "the river is a welcoming and wonderful, inclusive place. There are people who are here who didn't know it was pride weekend and people who are here on purpose. And that's what the river is — an inclusive place that is excited to welcome people. I'm so excited that other people get to see it."

Scot Kirkegaard and his husband, Kenny, came up to Clayton from Syracuse. They've been married for 17 years. They moved to Syracuse from Texas, where they were very involved with the LQBTQ community. Kenny performs in drag shows and they wanted to continue their involvement in northern New York.

"We saw they were doing it for the first time and thought it would be a cool thing to come," Scot said.

Brooke Levandowski and her mother, Cyndy, went to the pride event for the first time together. Brooke is lesbian and has a place in Alexandria Bay after growing up on the river.

"We haven't done pride together before but we were up here this weekend and I said let's go and she said yeah of course," Brooke said. "I'm a dike and I'm happy to be called a dike."

Above all, most people who went were smiling and planning to come back next year.

"I think it went great," Brooke said. "I spoke to a councilwoman about someone from the queer community coming to speak next year and I gave her my card and said I'd be happy to."

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