Washington cultural event aims to represent every area of LGBTQ community

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox
From left, Kevin Jennings, Deborah Fuller, Chris Herrmann, co-founders of Pride in the Hills

From left, Kevin Jennings, Deborah Fuller, Chris Herrmann, co-founders of Pride in the Hills

J. Koteen /

WASHINGTON — Hopelessness, isolation, and rejection — those are just some of the daily emotions felt by many young people in the LGBTQ community, according to town resident Chris Herrmann, co-founder of Pride in the Hills.

The mission of the three-year-old nonprofit is to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning people in Greater Waterbury and Litchfield County.

Toward that goal, Pride in the Hills will hold a program of activities at the first-ever SHAG, or Spring Hill Arts Gathering Festival, from 4 to 10 p.m., July 31 at Spring Hill Vineyards, 292 Bee Brook Road (Rt. 47), New Preston, Washington. The entire festival spans the weekends of July 29-Aug. 1 and Aug. 6-8. Tickets start at $45 for day passes and are available at www.springhillartsgathering.com. Admission is free for children under 12.

At SHAG, Pride in the Hills, or PITH, will feature performers including Sophie B. Hawkins, Alex Newell, Mila Jam, and Shequida Hall.

“When you look at that lineup, we are trying to represent every area of our LGBTQ community,” said Herrmann, owner of Mannic Media, a production company specializing in fashion, beauty, lifestyle, corporate, and education media.

Herrmann founded PITH with Southbury residents Kevin Jennings — co-founder of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, an American civil rights organization that focuses on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities — and Deborah Fuller.

PITH supports young people in the LGBTQ community in multiple ways including providing financial support for other LGBTQ organizations in the area such as QUEST (Queer, Unity, Empowerment, Support Team), a queer youth social group; and giving college scholarships to LGBTQ high school seniors.

Additionally, PITH has awarded grants to all the high schools in the Litchfield County area for gay-straight alliances.

“Gay and straight alliances bring together the gay and straight community,” Herrmann said. “When you have a gay-straight alliance in a high school, the bullying stops in its tracks because you have straight people supporting gay people.”

Proceeds and donations from PITH will support the Pride in the Hills Fund at the Connecticut Community Foundation. In order to provide funding to support the LGBTQ community, PITH holds several events a year.

Through PITH, “We want to give them hope that someday they can have a normal life and they can love people like everybody else, and they can have a successful career and family and a marriage and friends,” Herrmann said. “That’s ultimately what our goal is, to let them know that they’re supported and cared for and loved.”

SHAG

SHAG evolved from the Five Senses Festival, according to founder Stephanie Ingrassia, of Washington. “For the last three summers, we co-produced the Five Senses Festival with with Pilobolus.” Ingrassia said.

While the new event is no longer a collaboration with Pilobolus, “our goal has always been to bring the community together, so we’re just continuing what we’ve done,’ Ingrassia said.

Performers at SHAG include Ariana Debose, Sophie B. Hawkins, KT Tunstall, and Graydon Carter. Additionally, there will be a market where craftsmen of various trades sell their wares, which includes leather goods, essential oils, and baked items.

The festival also will pay tribute to town heroes — “people who’ve gone above and beyond in the last year for the community,” Ingrassia said. One of them is John VandenBosch of G.W. Tavern in Washington, who made meals for those in need on a weekly basis during the pandemic.

On another day, artists from the Art for Justice Fund, which works to bring attention to the injustices of the prison population, will show their work.

The festival has something for everyone’s tastes, according to Ingrassia.

“We’re over seven days and each evening is themed, and we always want to welcome many people into the community,” Ingrassia said. “Therefore, we have programs that might be of interest to lots of different people.”

sfox@milfordmirror.com