WESTERLY — On a windy, chilly day — a cool 48 degrees — they came out to chant “Love is love,” wave rainbow pride flags, sing “We are the Champions” and even the theme song to “The Golden Girls.”
Cars drove by and honked; a fire truck passed, siren on and honking, as one fireman waved out the window of the passenger side.
In total, more than 100 people attended the “Love is Love Westerly Citizens for LGBTQ Rights” rally outside Town Hall Sunday to show their support and acceptance for the local LGBTQ community.
Heather MacManus, who is bisexual, cheered and held a “Free Hugs” sign, a message she said was meant to comfort LGBT people who feel alienated.
“I’m 38. I’ve lived in Westerly my whole life,” she said. “I never thought I’d see this day. I’m so proud of everyone.”
Others echoed her reaction.
“I was so surprised, honestly,” Caitlin Kay, 29 and a self-identified member of the queer community, said of the turnout. “Growing up here, I didn’t feel like there was support. It makes me so happy to see this here today.”
The event was organized and put on following public outcry over a sign displayed Oct. 13 at Immaculate Conception Church on High Street in Westerly, reading, “God’s Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman.”
Attendants at the rally said they felt hurt by the sign but buoyed and accepted by the turnout and enthusiasm Sunday.
“I’m proud Westerly showed [up] and showed who it is,” said Mary Cryan.
Rev. Ruth Hainsworth, pastor at the United Congregational Church on Castle Hill Road in Pawcatuck, came with a group of congregants who felt compelled to demonstrate their commitment to the LGBTQ community.
“We’re an open and affirming church,” Hainsworth said. “We want to show our support, because I know a lot of people were upset by the other church putting out the sign, and we want people to know other Christians don’t feel that way.”
Kevin Dows, of Mystic, who came Sunday with his husband, Dwayne Spurley, said it was “awesome” to see both gay and straight people “come together as one to support us as one, which is what this is all about.”
In addition to the rally, organizers Megan Toscano and Kristal Francese set up a gofundme.com page to raise donations for The Trevor Project, which offers suicide and other crisis prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer and questioning youth and young adults.
As of Sunday evening, the fundraiser had raised $1,520, exceeding its $1,000 goal.
At the end of Sunday’s rally, Penelope Barrington, 51, of Westerly, said the gathering left her feeling “very hopeful.”
“I’m new to the LGBT community,” said Barrington, a transgender woman. “I am transgender and a lesbian, and I started my journey four years ago. It’s been nerve-racking, but I’m feeling I’m finally being who I am supposed to be.”
“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life,” she added. “I feel people need to embrace who they are, because life is too short.”