BELCHERTOWN, Mass. (WWLP) – The town of Belchertown is set to commemorate Pride Month with a special Pride flag raising and Proclamation reading ceremony on Thursday, June 8.

The event will take place at the Belchertown Town Hall front lawn at 2 Jabish Street from 5:30 to 6 p.m., and aims to celebrate and recognize the LGBTQ+ community.

The Belchertown Select Board unanimously voted in favor of officially acknowledging Pride Month this year. The program will feature guest speakers including Representative Aaron Saunders, Lesa Lessard Pearson, the first openly LGBTQ+ select board member, as well as Chief of Police Kevin Pacunas.

The highlight of the event will be the honoring of Bonnie Strickland, Ph.D., an esteemed member of the Belchertown LGBTQ+ community. Strickland, at 86 years old, is one of the towns eldest LGBTQ+ residents. She is a renowned psychologist, former chair of UMass Amherst Psychology Department, and former national president of the American Psychological Association. Her memoir, “Leaving the Confederate Closet: A Southern Lesbian’s Journey,” has garnered significant acclaim.

The Pride flag will be raised by students from Belchertown High School, symbolizing inclusivity and support for the LGBTQ+ community. The flag serves as a visual representation of acceptance and unity for all residents.

Bonnie Strickland expressed her joy at the evolving acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals, saying, “We’re here; we’re queer; and we’re proud!” She emphasized the significance of the Pride flag, providing a sense of belonging and assurance for young people questioning their own identities.

Lisa Lessard Pearson, the first out LGBTQ+ Select Board member, highlighted the importance of visibility and acceptance. “If being open about who I am can help others to feel safe, welcome, and respected in their own town, then I’m proud to serve,” she said. Pearson expressed hope that flying the Progress Pride flag sends a clear message that everyone, regardless of identity or orientation, is valued in Belchertown.

Jaime Michaels, co-founder of Belchertown Pride, celebrated the town’s progressive actions, including last year’s flag-raising despite a flag moratorium. Michaels expressed excitement about the unanimous recognition of Pride Month by the Select Board and the election of the first openly LGBTQ+ Select Board member. These steps, according to Michaels, demonstrate Belchertown’s commitment to becoming a supportive and inclusive community for LGBTQ+ individuals.

The flag raising and Proclamation reading ceremony will not only honor the LGBTQ+ community but also foster a sense of pride and acceptance for all residents and visitors of Belchertown.