Lori Panarello spearheaded the effort to bring a Pride parade...

Lori Panarello spearheaded the effort to bring a Pride parade to the North Fork, an event, she said, that was the culmination of a decade-old dream. Credit: Morgan Campbell

As a pickup truck decorated with rainbows made its way through Greenport’s inaugural Pride parade on Front and Main streets last June, Lori Panarello said she was blown away.

“It was incredible,” Panarello, 65, of Mattituck, recalled recently. “We saw women and men who had been living on the [North Fork] for 60 years, on the sidelines crying tears of joy. It really blew us all away,” she said.

Panarello, a board member of the nonprofit LGBT Network, spearheaded the effort to bring a Pride parade to the North Fork — an event that was the culmination of a decade-old dream. As Panarello prepares for the second Pride festival in Greenport Saturday, LGBTQ groups, including the nonprofit North Fork Women, said Panarello was key to bringing visibility to a community that was once in the shadows.

When Panarello and her wife, Catherine Canadé, moved to Mattituck a decade ago, they found community in the North Fork Women, which supports gay women in the region. She floated the idea of a Pride parade, but members were reluctant.

“Nobody seemed to think it was the right time or the right idea, so we put it on the back burner,” Panarello said.

In fact, when the organization was founded in 1992, the word “lesbian” wasn’t used in association with the group, although its members were gay women determined to help lesbians in the community, recalled Leslie Weisman, 78, a past president of the group. 

“People were understandably fearful for loss of jobs, families that maybe knew or didn’t know, and that curtailed our ability to be publicly out,” said Weisman, of Southold.

Over time, societal and political shifts pushed members to embrace their identity.

“The fear of being marginalized and rejected kept us silent, but if we remained that way, we were not going to be able to live fully truthful and honest lives,” Weisman said.

Today, the group provides social, financial and medical support to lesbians. Last year, the organization raised $25,000 to help offset the costs of mammograms, install grab bars and provide life alert alarms, Weisman said.

The Census Bureau does not collect data on same-sex households, but the Williams Institute, a UCLA-based think tank, estimates 5% of New York’s population identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. LGBT Network CEO Robert Vitelli said the North Fork has historically had a strong population of gay women.

Barbara Novick, president of North Fork Women, said the group's membership includes approximately 800 households on the East End.

Novick, 69, said one priority is to recruit younger members. “It moves us all into the future,” she said.

Michelle Demetillo, 37, of Wading River, joined the organization's board in January. She also runs Queerli, a nonprofit advocacy group for young people on the East End. She said it’s “inspiring” to see the overdue celebration of Pride on the North Fork. 

“Lori was the catalyst for it happening because so many people were fearful and anxious about it coming to Greenport,” Demetillo said. “She’s incredible.”

Panarello said she found “the guts” to organize the parade after seeing demographics shift locally to be more welcoming and inclusive.

“I never was the kind of person to stay silent, especially if it’s something I’m passionate about,” she said.

Nearly 40 groups will march in this year’s parade, which kicks off at noon Saturday on Main Street in Greenport. A festival will follow in Mitchell Park.

Vitelli said it’s important that Pride events expand their reach each year.

“We can't let people try to put the LGBT community back in the closet. We must remain visible,” he said.

As a pickup truck decorated with rainbows made its way through Greenport’s inaugural Pride parade on Front and Main streets last June, Lori Panarello said she was blown away.

“It was incredible,” Panarello, 65, of Mattituck, recalled recently. “We saw women and men who had been living on the [North Fork] for 60 years, on the sidelines crying tears of joy. It really blew us all away,” she said.

Panarello, a board member of the nonprofit LGBT Network, spearheaded the effort to bring a Pride parade to the North Fork — an event that was the culmination of a decade-old dream. As Panarello prepares for the second Pride festival in Greenport Saturday, LGBTQ groups, including the nonprofit North Fork Women, said Panarello was key to bringing visibility to a community that was once in the shadows.

When Panarello and her wife, Catherine Canadé, moved to Mattituck a decade ago, they found community in the North Fork Women, which supports gay women in the region. She floated the idea of a Pride parade, but members were reluctant.

“Nobody seemed to think it was the right time or the right idea, so we put it on the back burner,” Panarello said.

In fact, when the organization was founded in 1992, the word “lesbian” wasn’t used in association with the group, although its members were gay women determined to help lesbians in the community, recalled Leslie Weisman, 78, a past president of the group. 

“People were understandably fearful for loss of jobs, families that maybe knew or didn’t know, and that curtailed our ability to be publicly out,” said Weisman, of Southold.

Over time, societal and political shifts pushed members to embrace their identity.

“The fear of being marginalized and rejected kept us silent, but if we remained that way, we were not going to be able to live fully truthful and honest lives,” Weisman said.

Today, the group provides social, financial and medical support to lesbians. Last year, the organization raised $25,000 to help offset the costs of mammograms, install grab bars and provide life alert alarms, Weisman said.

The Census Bureau does not collect data on same-sex households, but the Williams Institute, a UCLA-based think tank, estimates 5% of New York’s population identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. LGBT Network CEO Robert Vitelli said the North Fork has historically had a strong population of gay women.

Barbara Novick, president of North Fork Women, said the group's membership includes approximately 800 households on the East End.

Novick, 69, said one priority is to recruit younger members. “It moves us all into the future,” she said.

Michelle Demetillo, 37, of Wading River, joined the organization's board in January. She also runs Queerli, a nonprofit advocacy group for young people on the East End. She said it’s “inspiring” to see the overdue celebration of Pride on the North Fork. 

“Lori was the catalyst for it happening because so many people were fearful and anxious about it coming to Greenport,” Demetillo said. “She’s incredible.”

Panarello said she found “the guts” to organize the parade after seeing demographics shift locally to be more welcoming and inclusive.

“I never was the kind of person to stay silent, especially if it’s something I’m passionate about,” she said.

Nearly 40 groups will march in this year’s parade, which kicks off at noon Saturday on Main Street in Greenport. A festival will follow in Mitchell Park.

Vitelli said it’s important that Pride events expand their reach each year.

“We can't let people try to put the LGBT community back in the closet. We must remain visible,” he said.

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