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Letter to the Editor: Celebrate Pride Month By Volunteering

(Publisher’s note: This is a modified version of the speech given by Mary Keaton at Chelsea’s Pride Parade on June 1.)

Dear Editor:

My name is Mary Keaton, and I am the chair of Chelsea’s Human Rights Commission. I am a proud mom, proud ally, and proud member of the Chelsea community. 

Chelsea is an idyllic place to live. With its rich history, beautiful and iconic architecture, restaurants, parks, theater, exemplary schools, art and nature, it can sometimes feel like we are living in a movie. When we first moved here 17 years ago, I told my husband we were now living in Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls. And maybe, one snowy winter night after a second cocktail at the alehouse (RIP), I might have run through our streets yelling “Merry Christmas Bedford Falls!”  when I once again realized how charming our town can be.

But we also have our troubles. Mental illness is the great equalizer. It does not discriminate by race, socioeconomic status, age or wherever you might fall on the rainbow spectrum.  Chelsea has had to say goodbye to too many of our young people.  Too many of our citizens live in darkness.

We are still living under the tensions of summer 2020. For those of us who witnessed the turmoil, those scars may never fully heal. We watched neighbors fight neighbors, adults literally assault children and institutions we trust turn on its citizens. The streets of Chelsea rang with anger and derision.

Even now, the US is living under the shadow of an epidemic of loneliness that we are just beginning to understand.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic experts sounded the alarm that isolation and lack of social relationships are having an impact on our collective mental and physical health. The US surgeon general warned that this loneliness can be as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Though we often try to fill this void with online interactions, the poison of the internet can drag us even further down, creating distrust in our fellow humans who may seek sanctuary for their hate in the catacombs of the internet. As powerful as social media has been to help us find and connect to other people, it often seems stronger at showing us the worst humanity has to offer.

But there is hope and I see it as we welcome summer and celebrate Pride.

Beyond this month of June, beyond rainbow flags and rainbow commerce and reminding people that love is love, I encourage you to help combat this hate and isolation by volunteering in your community. Show up. Meet people where they are and allow them to meet you as you are. Grow together. Tackle challenges and create something new with your neighbors.  Find common ground through common interests.

And an amazing thing about Chelsea is that whatever your interest there is a group for you. Whether you love books, dogs, board games, Pickleball, gardening, history, social justice, religion, parks, or even vintage baseball, there are groups waiting for you to show up and dig in. Volunteering is not only a way to serve your community, but to build fellowship and find your chosen family.

There is a place for all in this town. Though it may seem like only the loudest voices shouting vitriol are heard over the din, I promise that your voice is as important as anyone’s.  I know it can seem scary to put yourself out there, but I encourage you to volunteer if you are able.

Help shape our community to make it better. Through collaboration and relationships, we can break through stigmas and create a stronger, healthier and united Chelsea.  As the saying goes, “Any jackass can knock down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one. “

Furthermore, Chelsea is fortunate to have our Non-Discrimination Ordinance. Our ordinance states that no individual shall be denied equal protection of the laws. The originators of our ordinance understood that our community is better and stronger when all citizens have a voice, and the playing field is level.

More information about Chelsea’s Human Rights Commission and our Non-Discrimination Ordinance can be found at: https://www.city-chelsea.org/government/boards___commissions/human_rights_commission.php

In closing, I want to remind people that one of the purposes of Pride is showing up for the folks who are unable to show up for themselves. This June we march and fly rainbow flags not only for ourselves. Not only for our friends or family, but we also stand for those who can’t march yet. For those who it is not safe to be out.  For those who are not ready to march. We stand for those who may think the darkness might be better than living their truth. 

By coming together as happy, strong, productive, united members of our community, we show folks that when they are ready, they will be welcome to stand with us in the sun.    

Mary Keaton
Chelsea

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