Celebrating 19 years of homegrown Pride in New Jersey, the statewide celebration put on by Jersey Pride, Inc. in Asbury Park, NJ kicks off Pride Season in the Garden State. Radiating out from Asbury Park to Jersey City, Trenton and more, celebrations happen in June, August and the fall-there is just no getting enough of Pride.
Jersey Pride's celebration is always the first Sunday in June and this year, the weekend was steamy! Jersey Pride's stalwart crew of volunteers numbers only about two dozen during the year, swelling to about twice that to run an event for 20,000-plus of our closest friends. Part of what that means is physical labor-the parks that are used in Asbury Park require establishment of a perimeter, since alcohol is served, and Jersey Pride does all of the manual labor. And I mean manual-my buddy Andy discovered that, after pounding in nearly ALL of the stakes around the perimeter, his thumbs didn't work! Add a bit of sunburn and staying hydrated and you'll know very quickly that a nice cold beer is NOT the way to go.
While Jersey Pride was setting up Bradley and Atlantic Parks, in the shadow of the historic Convention Center, NJ's Leather community was holding its amazing block party, Foreplay, in its third location in as many years. While the big gay firetruck was sorely missed, Sal Susino and the leather and kink community run Foreplay as a fundraiser for Jersey Pride. We are grateful to our leather men and womyn for the June 5 afternoon love, and the drag community, which ran its ragingly successful Ms. and Mr. Gay New Jersey Pageant, as well as Asbury Park's community center, Q Spot, which presented Pride-oriented events that kept the party going all weekend.
Early on the morning of June 6, the air was a bit cooler, but every bit as moist as it was the day before. Final snow-fencing perimeters were being made; the rented stage and expert sound engineers were arriving to set up the Rally area; vendors and groups were setting up in the Festival area, which included a Family Zone for our LGBT parents and children; and it was the second year of the Zen Zone, where people could learn more about what it means to be green and leave only footprints behind as you pass.
Unity Fellowship held a Pride service, and organizations and groups like Gay Activist Alliance in Morris County (GAAMC)-NJ's oldest continuing activist organization-marched in the Parade.
Stepping off at noon, the parade was led by Dykes on Bikes, and also featured the Lesbian And Gay Big Apple Corps and a local marching band made of proud LGBT band members, and floats, including those of the NJ Lesbian and Gay Havurah, as well as The Pride Center, once a sister committee of Jersey Pride when both were under the umbrella of the New Jersey Lesbian and Gay Coalition. And then there was the Rally.
Spotlighting local talent from the entire New Jersey Metro area, New York-based comic Mimi Gonzalez MCed and performed. Trouper that she is, Mimi had finished her set in Provincetown on Saturday night and hopped a flight to Newark. Driving crazy and safely, she arrived just in time to stride across the field and up on to the stage. As one of the most gracious and hardest working lesbian comics around, Mimi's radiance shows through everything she does-from chiding people who manage to lose wallets, drivers licenses, and more-most of which was found, except for a pair of Levi's shorts with a Coach wallet-from old friends to finding lost little brothers, she did it all. And the talent!
Guitar and singing duo Jeff and Karen are local favorites, who have played everywhere from Rainbow Mountain to off-off-off Broadway. Kicking it up and out, they had the crowd going from their first hello. The Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps played rousing marches, then Asbury Park Dance and Yoga had an all ages-all talented Lady GaGa-dancing troupe that was diverse and beautiful, resplendent in black eclectic garb and true beauty inside and out. Other acts included Oh My Josh, a Christian artist turned dance divo, the soulful Gregory Douglass, outrageously talented Sister Funk, folk trio emma's revolution, Miss Chanel International, as well as Ms. Gay New Jersey and our headliner, Rochelle Fleming of First Choice. Ms. Fleming gave a show that had nature's beauty as a backdrop. The sky was alternately white and gray and misty blue, a swath of rain went by, and all of it showing the love of Whomever created us in the image of the divine.
Whirled Pride you ask? Where does that come from? Remember if you will, the central event of "The Wizard of Oz": the county where Pride is held, as well as ALL of the adjacent counties, were under a tornado watch. While some might savor the irony of Judy Garland's iconic early film, and a similar force majeur possibly to descend, it is a tribute to the will of all in attendance that we were collectively and individually able to hold off that rain. A further irony was that, when a tired troupe of Pride coordinators sat down to a well deserved celebration dinner, some still wearing their staff shirts and some of us-who have done this 17 times before-having a clean shirt in the car, we all drank volumes of water, while waiting for dinner to arrive. We were treated to a glorious, breezy and chilly sunset, with music from the tea dance on the boardwalk teasing us toward it, even as our weary feet trudged into the Asbury Grille. We sat down, ordered dinner and, among the hugs and kisses and laughter and stories, we've already begun to plan for Year Twenty.
History and commitment and pride unite in this Parade that, while only about a mile and a half long, is miles high to those who march and those who watch. All through June and, quite honestly, around the country and around the world during the entire year, celebrations and parades and marches and danger and happiness and love are lurking. Before that Parade passes by, make sure you are a part of it. When you want to get involved, let me know. We can make all of that happen for you.