Earlier this year, the Capital Pride Alliance underwent some staff changes at the decision-making level, hoping to bring in fresh ideas to provide outreach and support for the LGBTQ+ community. Board member Michele Irimia-Bernabe was one of the talented folks brought in to provide a fresh perspective. For the last 20 years, Irimia-Bernabe had been an integral part of nonprofit Heritage of Pride, also known as NYC Pride, in the Big Apple. Now in the nation’s capital as a DCPS (District of Columbia Public Schools) educator, she’s prepping for her first Capital Pride Parade. We spoke to her about adjusting to life in the District, her history with the Pride movement and how vital these events can be for the LGBTQ+ community.
On Tap: When did you know you wanted to be involved in the Pride movement? Did you have a moment that called you to action?
Michele Irimia-Bernabe: I knew I wanted to be involved in the Pride movement the moment I came out. I received backlash from my family as soon as I told them I was gay. I felt that I needed to be a voice for those who did not have one. I did not want anyone to feel rejected or thought of as less. I wanted other LGBTQ+ individuals to know that they had a place in society and that they could thrive.
OT: How much has the movement changed since you’ve been involved?
MIB: Since I have been in the movement, it has grown exponentially. I started out working with NYC Pride in 1999, and just recently joined Capital Pride’s Board of Directors. As laws have changed against sodomy and marriage equality, our relationships have become validated. We are visible. That visibility has created a huge change in public perception. That’s not saying that we still don’t have huge strides to make. We continue to fight for full equality for all LGBTQ+ people.
OT: Tell me about some of the things you focus on within the Capital Pride Alliance. What has it been like as a board member these past few months?
MIB: I work with an amazing group of people that dedicate their time and energy to the community. I have focused on being present at most events and representing a Latina voice. I volunteered for Capital Trans Pride and it was such a wonderful experience. I plan on being at most of our events during Pride Week.
OT: How integral do you think these tentpole events like the Pride Parade are to spurring awareness?
MIB: Everyone remembers their first Pride. You feel empowered because you are watching people like you marching with organizations, businesses, schools, politicians, churches, sports teams and bars. It is an overwhelming experience. It makes you realize that you are not alone. Pride events provide that experience for so many. Not everyone lives in a welcoming city [or] safe space. For one day a year, everyone in the community has a safe space to celebrate, protest and most importantly, be who they are.
OT: What’s different this year? What ideas did you bring with you from NYC?
MIB: Every year is different. Planning for our diverse community is always fun as ideas pour out for new safe spaces for everyone. What I bring from New York City to DC is the experience of managing and directing large-scale events. I worked in almost every capacity in NYC and helped the organization grow to provide safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. I hope to bring that same spirit and knowledge to the Capital Pride Alliance.
OT: What has life in DC been like so far?
MIB: Life has been different in DC. I went from a huge, fast-paced city to a city that is much smaller and a bit slower. I feel that my wife and I have a great work-life balance here. I find that DC is a wonderful place to live, and I have met some really smart, beautiful people.
OT: Do you have any favorite neighborhoods in the city?
MIB: My favorite part of the city is Adams Morgan/Columbia Heights because I can get Spanish food there, and I do miss my mom’s cooking.
OT: What activities do you enjoy in the District?
MIB: My favorite things to do in the city are to walk [and] run in the evenings, enjoy time with my friends, and be present for my students every day. I enjoy all the museums and art that surround the city. I love spending time with my wife, Maryrose, enjoying some of the great restaurants in DC. I also enjoy getting to know different parts of the city and the diversity within our nation.
For more information about the Capital Pride Alliance or the Pride 2018 Parade, visit www.capitalpride.org.