Celebrating Vermont Pride: A State of Freedom and Unity

by Dan Allen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday July 12, 2021

It's fitting that a state whose very motto is "Freedom and Unity" would know how to do Pride right. "Having been to some giant Pride celebrations around the country, I can say we stand out as perhaps the largest grassroots celebration," says Justin Marsh (they/them), lead organizer and director of development and communications of the Pride Vermont Parade & Festival (August 28—September 5).

Marsh says that by "grassroots," they mean that until only a few years ago, Pride Vermont was entirely volunteer-run and powered without major corporation involvement, a quality that more and more Pride events across the country are moving to reclaim. "Even now," Marsh adds, "our Pride is run by the LGBTQ+ community center and operates on a very modest budget. That is reflected in the feel of our Pride — it's community-focused and truly about the celebration and the core of its meaning. Plus, Vermont is perhaps one of the most beautiful places in the country, and our Pride is celebrated on the Burlington Waterfront, overlooking Lake Champlain and New York's Adirondack Mountains — it doesn't get more picturesque than that."

Indeed, a trip to Vermont for Pride is worth it for the incredible beauty alone, not to mention the fantastic array of lodging, dining, and shopping options run by unbelievably friendly LGBTQ and allied Vermonters.

Inns with Individuality

Adding a big dose of eclectic to the urban chic aesthetic, Made INN is a self-described "funky fun artsy intimate fabulous hip historic inn" set in a delightfully converted Victorian house at the heart of downtown Burlington.

About 15 minutes south of Burlington is the beautiful lakeside Inn at Shelburne Farms, a former private mansion set on a massive 1,400-acre working farm and sustainability education center. The Inn itself is closed for the Summer 2021 season, but the grounds are open with more than 10 miles of trails to walk and explore.

Mari Omland and Laura Olsen's Green Mountain Girls Farm in Northfield, Vermont, offers visitors the chance to stay on a working farm in their barn guesthouse or farmhouse inn. Take a dip in the pond for a summer refresh or explore the woods by snowshoe come wintertime. And be sure to schedule a guided farm tour to meet your fellow guests!

Looking for more unique places to stay in Vermont? Click here.

A Taste of the Northeast

Just a block away from the Pride Vermont Parade kickoff point at Church Street Marketplace is the French fare of Leunig's Bistro & Café, one of the oldest continually operating restaurants in downtown Burlington, and solely owned since last year by out lesbian Donnell Collins.

A block and a half south is El Gato Cantina, serving authentic Mexican dishes and appetizers made from traditional family recipes. If it's happening while you're in town, don't miss Chic Full Gay, the queer pop-up answer to Chick-fil-A that happens twice a month at St. Paul Street Gastrogrub, where creator Bryan Gildersleeve is the chef.

Up in South Hero (about 20 miles north of Burlington on Grand Isle, the biggest island in Lake Champlain) is the intimate Blue Paddle Bistro, co-owned by couple turned business partners, Phoebe Bright and Mandy Hotchkiss. While on the islands, head for Snow Farm Vineyard for locally made wine tastings. On Thursday nights, the winery hosts live music among the grapes grown onsite.

Bring Vermont Home

The Shelburne Museum spans 45 acres and includes an eclectic collection dating back to its founder, Electra Havemeyer Webb. Contemporary artists are also featured in the museum's second biennial show, "New England Now: People" (through October 17). Be sure to seek out Cobi Moules' landscape paintings, "Bois Just Wanna Have Fun," which examine queer and transgender identity, along with a terrific gift shop where you can discover Vermont crafts and unique finds.

Find that special exotic gift — and learn more about fair trade principles while you're at it — at the Peace & Justice Store, representing more than 60 artisan groups from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, and supporting the mission of the Peace and Justice Center in addressing issues of racial and economic justice, peace, and human rights.

Up in South Hero, Champlain Islands Candy Lab specializes in handmade chocolate, gelato, crepes, baked goods, and specialty coffees and beverages. It is owned by married couple Albert Reyes-McCarver and Michael McCarver-Reyes.

Small Town, Big Pride

While the full schedule for Pride Vermont 2021 is still being finalized, several popular annual favorites are certain to return this year after the pandemic, unfortunately, caused their 2020 cancellation.

August 29 marks Whatever Floats Your Boat 4, a Pride tea dance on Lake Champlain aboard the Spirit of Ethan Allen. Kicking off Pride weekend, Friday's big Pride Ball dance party returns this year to Higher Ground in Burlington on September 3. Sunday's Pride Vermont Parade on September 5 will commence as usual at Church Street Marketplace. "We will likely be foregoing our usual grand marshal for a celebration instead of our LGBTQ+ frontline healthcare workers," says Marsh of the parade, which will be followed by the Sunday afternoon Pride Vermont Festival at Burlington's Battery Park.

Want more Vermont travel ideas? Check out our Rainbow Road Trip: The Ultimate Green Mountain Adventure and explore

Dan Allen covers travel and LGBTQ culture for numerous outlets around the world including NBC Out, CBS Watch!, the Los Angeles Blade, Passport and Fodor's.