The mother-daughter duo who painted their town a rainbow

Amanda Collins Bernier
Ava Mackin and her mother, Lisa Gregoire, co-founders of LGBTQ youth group Somewhere Over the Rainbow, stand in front of the Pride Flag at the Joshua Hyde Public Library in Sturbridge.

Four days, countless miles, and hundreds of flags -- that’s how Lisa Gregoire and Ava Mackin celebrated Pride Month. 

Just weeks before the pandemic shut down everyday life in March, the mother-daughter duo from Sturbridge launched Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a social club for LGBTQ+ youth in their local community. As the stay-at-home advisory wore on into June, they came up with an idea to support LGBTQ+ youth from home. 

“All these Pride events had been cancelled and we were feeling disappointed and thinking ‘there has to be a way they’re still supported. There still has to be some way to celebrate,’” Gregoire said. 

A few months before, she had purchased a bulk order of mini rainbow flags to pass out to members of their newly formed club. But with meetings on hold, she thought of passing them out to neighbors and friends to display at their homes throughout the month of June. 

“Yes!” Mackin agreed. “We can paint the towns a rainbow!” 

Gregoire, who’s general manager at Saw Dust Coffee House and Dessert Bar in Sturbridge and a commercial artist, reached out to her local contacts to sign dozens of local businesses and organizations onto the initiative. Each time a new flag went up, she posted a picture on Facebook with the hashtag #paintthetownsrainbow.

Soon strangers in Gregoire's hometown and beyond were reaching out to see how they could get a flag. Over the course of four days, they hand delivered more than 175 flags big and small to residents and businesses in a half dozen towns.

“It was a chore, but I was blown away by the support we got,” said Gregoire. 

A mom of three (and soon-to-be stepmom to two more) Gregoire has been supportive of her oldest daughter’s sexuality since she came out at 12. Gregoire can easily recall the nonchalant way her daughter told her she was gay. 

“We in the car and she was just talking -- she’s always talking -- and she looked over at me and said ‘mom, you know I’m gay,’” Gregoire recalled. “And I said, ‘I do?’ She was just like, ‘yeah, mom,’ and grabbed her backpack and hopped out of the car.”

A hint of concern crept in. Would she be bullied, Gregoire wondered? Would she have the support she needed at school? But Ava is confident and self-assured, moving through her teenage years authentically, with the backing of a always supportive family. 

Not all kids are given this chance to feel supported, though. Some face a lack of support at home or in their community. One study of more than 10,000 LGBT-identified youth, ages 13-17, reported 26 percent said their non-accepting families were the greatest problem they face.

Ava, who is entering eighth grade in the fall, has friends who are in that boat. Looking for a safe space to meet with local LGBTQ+ youth, she found the closest groups were several miles away in Worcester. That’s when she approached her mom about starting Somewhere Over the Rainbow. 

The group, which hasn’t fully started up yet due to the coronavirus pandemic, is a social club for LGBTQ+ teens and tweens in the greater Sturbridge area. 

“Just a place where they can hang out, talk about things, and feel accepted. I know a lot of these kids struggle,” said Gregoire. 

The group’s bi-weekly meetings will resume when pandemic coronavirus concerns lift. For more information about getting involved, follow Somewhere Over the Rainbow on Facebook.