MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (WTNH) – Pride Month is just getting started, and thousands of people went to Middletown to kick off celebrations at the largest festival in the state.

The colors of the rainbow took over downtown Middletown, as people young and old, of all identities and races and religions came together for the city’s fourth annual Pridefest.

“We’re telling the world when you come to Middletown you are welcome, you are valid and you are loved,” said

After two years of smaller festivals amid the pandemic, the event was back bigger than ever with a parade, rally, drag performances and plenty of food vendors.

Middletown’s scene offered a place where people like West Haven resident Sam Traylor and Watertown resident Sage Albino feel surrounded by love.

“People used to not be able to come out, people were not comfortable coming out and now not only are people out, there’s a whole festival and there’s all kinds of people here,” Traylor said.

Albino concurred with Traylor.

“It’s about being able to express myself and be who I was born to be,” Albino said.

They’re celebrating the LGBTQ+ community and how far they’ve come. But they’re also speaking out to protect the rights they’ve gained. Governor Ned Lamont and Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz were in attendance, along with Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim.

“We are not going to back down from a fight in Middletown to protect those rights, to expand those rights, to protect gay kids, to protect trans kids,” Florsheim said.

It’s an uncertain time in our country as rights remain at stake. Those here want to show that they’re not backing down.

“I think as the years go on we’re making more and more progress as far as inclusiveness and just acceptance for everybody,” said Meriden resident Israel White.

Hartford resident Samir Lulic said having representation is important for the community.

“It is important to have these events and it is important to have a voice for these people, especially when they don’t feel like they have a voice for themselves,” Lulic said.