MIDDLETOWN — Christopher Forte, the city’s assistant general counsel, says he is in the job to help make his “corner of the world a better place.”
Forte, who spearheaded the inaugural Middletown Pride event, was recognized for this work recently, with the first-ever Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Award from the International Municipal Lawyers Association.
Given during a virtual awards ceremony, it recognizes the outstanding individual or organization who champion diversity at the municipal level.
Middletown Pride, a successful event by all accounts, drew close to 15,000 people to a city of 48,000 in 2019. The event was one of the largest prides in Connecticut and brought in people from all over New England.
It was canceled earlier this year due to the pandemic and rescheduled to June 19, 2021.
Forte helped draft a city ordinance that established the city’s first LGBTQIA committee.
He had no idea he was nominated by his supervisor, General Counsel Brig Smith. “[The recognition means everything. Growing up I never imagined something even like this in my town. I can only imagine being a young person now and seeing Middletown Pride,” Forte told The Press.
When Drew told him he had been nominated, Forte he was so touched that he cried.
Following the parade and festival, Forte was contacted by many people who wanted to tell their stories and express appreciation. He said his most meaningful interaction was with a local teacher who shared a former student’s experience of being rejected by his family when he told them he was gay.
The student had even contemplated ending his life at one point, the teacher told Forte.
“Less than a year later, during Middletown Pride, he walked down Main Street, in the parade with his boyfriend, feeling empowered and loved by his community,” Forte said.
Not long after colorful pride flags and banners were hung all along Main Street in anticipation of the festival, he was approached by a local mental health professional who told Forte the mental well-being of her LGBTQIA patients was bolstered “across the board.”
“There is no one more deserving of this amazing recognition” Florsheim wrote on his Facebook page.
“It’s one thing to receive recognition locally; it’s quite another to do so internationally. Christopher represents what is best and brightest about our team at city hall and the incredible community it serves,” he said in a release.
“My hope is that Middletown Pride can help foster an environment where marginalized people can feel accepted and loved,” Forte said in a statement.
It gave people the courage to come out to family and at work, he said.
“Accepting an award like this is a bit odd for me, because I’m not used to taking center stage,” Forte said in his speech, acknowledging although he received the honor as an individual, he was supported by many people, including Smith, Deputy General Counsel Kori Wisneski, Drew, Florsheim, Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce President Larry McHugh, as well as those on the city’s LGBT+ Advisory Committee.
Being a professional lawyer “rarely screams massive event planner,” Forte said in his speech. “There were many, many times when I questioned whether I was the right person for the job, but whenever I doubted myself, I remembered that one of the reasons I decided to become a city attorney was the ability to make my corner of the world a better place.”
Middletown Pride has had significant effects on his life and those of others, he said.
Considering that some LGBTQIA people hesitate telling others about their sexuality for fear of the reaction, and that the Pride celebration united people of all types in a joyous celebration, was heartwarming, he said.
“To have your community actually support you — I have to imagine it would be so wonderful. Middletown Pride felt magical and amazing,” he said. “This is love and how it should be,” Forte said.