Soren Peterson had looked forward to 2020’s Pride celebrations all year. The 13-year-old Reeds Brook Middle School eighth-grader had attended several events in the past, but this would have been the first year he was taking part as an openly gay teenager.
COVID-19 changed all that when large gatherings around Maine, including annual Pride parades, were canceled to help control the spread of the virus.
But his younger brother Bodie Peterson, 11, was not about to let a pandemic get in the way of his brother’s pride celebrations. So, unbeknownst to Soren Peterson, Brodie and two of their neighborhood friends organized a drive-by pride parade last week.
“I thought it would be nice for Soren to have his parade for the first time he was out for Pride,” Bodie Peterson said. “So I decided to bring the parade to him as a socially distancing event.”
Bodie Peterson used social media to organize the event and managed to keep it under wraps until two days before the parade.
Leading up to the parade Bodie Peterson, Soren Peterson and their parents Kevin Peterson and Amanda Sidell placed rainbow pride flags around their house and tie-dyed 50 T-shirts with rainbow colors and Pride messages.
Soren Peterson said he thought those decorations were going to be the extent of his Pride celebrations this year.
“But then my parents told me there was going to be more,” Soren Peterson said. “I asked them ‘are we going to paint the house like a rainbow?’ and that’s when they told me about the parade.”
Sidell said she was not sure how their neighbors would feel about the Pride parade, so she posted the event on their Hampden neighborhood Facebook page and asked if anyone was opposed to the parade, to please be respectful and not ruin it for her son.
Turns out, the family had nothing to worry about. Every single member of their neighborhood took part in the parade.
Every. Single. One.
Sidell estimates around 100 people took part in the parade that drove past their home for about 30 minutes. There were balloons, confetti cannons, tossed candy, honking horns, cheers and rainbow flags everywhere.
For Soren Peterson, coming out was more of a process than a single event. Last fall, after years of people asking him if he was gay, he decided to start telling people he was.
Overall, the reaction from his peers was positive, though Soren Peterson did say several members of the middle school football team, for whom he played as a lineman, made some negative comments. Beyond that, he said it was really not more difficult than navigating the normally uncomfortable hierarchy of middle school dynamics.
“Coming out was amazing, really,” Soren Peterson said. “It’s wonderful to not have to try to hide who I am and not have it feel like it’s baggage I have to tote around.“
The two brothers are obviously close, though both admit they can get on each other’s nerves.
“Soren Peterson is someone I look up to because of what he did in coming out,” Bodie Peterson said.
Blushing a bit at the compliment, Soren Peterson chimed in, “I am generally annoying, I would say.”
Soren Peterson knows there are other young people out there wrestling with coming out and he hopes they can do so in a safe manner.
“People can be really annoying,” he said. “They can be negative but don’t listen to them because always questioning who you are internally is not fun.”
His parents, Sidell and Kevin Peterson, were supportive of their son’s decision to come out in his own way in his own time.
“We talk a lot about courage and how to control what you can and not let people pull you down with their negativity,” Kevin Peterson said. “You do have to understand if you are going to put yourself out there there will be negativity and you need to be prepared for that.”
Soren Peterson also made it clear that the parade organized by his brother was about more than his Pride celebration.
“The parade was really nice but it was clearly not exclusively for me,” Soren Peterson said. “Pride is about being inclusive and including all groups.”
It came as no surprise to their parents that Bodie Peterson organized the parade.
“We have always raised our kids to be caring and accepting of differences,” Kevin Peterson said. “What Bodie Peterson did really validates that.”