BENNINGTON — With waves, cheers, honking horns and all the colors of the rainbow flying, the second annual Pride Car Caravan made its joyous way through downtown Bennington on Saturday morning.
Several dozen decorated cars and trucks made two loops of the Four Corners, cheered on by scores of supporters, many clad in rainbow colors and waving a variety of Pride flags.
Participants started out from Willow Park, heading south to the downtown. From there, they drove north, through North Bennington, Shaftsbury and Arlington, ending in Manchester, where they met up with a similar caravan that had set out from Rutland.
The event was organized by Queer Connect, a local non-profit organization.
"We had an incredible day," said Jess Bouchard, president of the Queer Connect board. "Today was really magical, and an even better word: healing."
The first Pride Car Caravan was organized as a way to safely bring visibility to the LGBTQ+ community throughout the region during the coronavirus pandemic. Although 80 percent of Vermonters have had at least one dose of vaccine and restrictions on gathering have been lifted, organizers this year recognized that some community members are still practicing safety precautions.
"We hosted a Pride Caravan last year hoping it would be a once in a lifetime event," Bouchard said. "It was a really important event at that time to bring LGBTQ+ people together, and also feel supported in our community. It served a very grounding purpose last year when the world felt so disconnected.
"This year, however, our caravan felt liberating. At the end of the Pride ride, we safely gathered to picnic, and that was what was healing.
"I saw a lot of teary eyes, not from sadness, but I think gratitude," Bouchard said.
Among the supporters of this year's events were Alliance for Community Transformations, The Rutland Area NAACP, United Counseling Service, The Collaborative, AIDS Project of Southern Vermont, Global-Z International, Inc., Inc., and Rights & Democracy of Bennington.
Southwestern Vermont Medical Center's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee was represented, and one of the hospital's doctors, Malcolm Paine, provided music. Knapp's helped out by letting Paine run an extension cord to his DJ setup.
Bouchard said she was grateful for the many new faces and organizations at this year's event. "Pride events are so necessary for communities to build diversity and tolerant people," she said.
She said she joined Queer Connect as a board member after last year’s Pride caravan "because I was so moved by the experience."
Supporting Rutland's first Pride event was "really special," Bouchard said. "We had so many Rutland natives thank us for bringing visibility to their community, and that was so rewarding."