The history of Gay Pride events in New Jersey

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Asbury Park Jersey LGBTI Pride Parade in 2015 photo by Steve Dovidio
Asbury Park Jersey LGBTI Pride Parade in 2015 photo by Steve Dovidio

Asbury Park has long been synonymous with New Jersey’s largest yearly LGBT celebration. This June marks the 26th year of the celebration, which takes place across the street from Asbury’s historic Convention Hall. The celebration is just one of many celebrations of gay pride taking place throughout the month of June and beyond.

Jersey Pride 2016. A birds-eye view in Asbury Park of the NJ LGBTI Pride festival grounds.
Jersey Pride 2016. A birds-eye view in Asbury Park of the NJ LGBTI Pride festival grounds.

The concept of Pride started as an act of revolt and defiance in 1970, following the Stonewall Riots in New York City. On June 28, 1969, a group of patrons at the Greenwich Village bar took a stand against police harassment and intimidation. The patrons were joined by men, women, and drag queens from all over the city, shouting “gay power” as the police did their best to disperse the crowd.

After that night, other demonstrations popped up throughout the city. On the first-year anniversary, they marched in what would become the first gay pride parade in United States history. Members of the LGBT community in Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco had their own parades in a show of solidarity.

Jersey LGBTI Pride Parade viewers in Asbury Park in 2012. Photo by Steve Dovidio
Jersey LGBTI Pride Parade viewers in Asbury Park in 2012. Photo by Steve Dovidio

In the intervening years, the celebration of Pride with marches and festivals has moved away from its origins as a protest and a refusal to hide or be silent. What started as an act of defiance is now a way for all facets of the LGBT community to come together in a safe space. The legacy of that one act in a New York City bar spawned marches throughout the country in almost every major city, featuring corporate allies. Wells Fargo, Delta, American Airlines, Macy’s and Bank of America, among many other corporations, have participated in various marches in years past, represented by their LGBT employees.

Asbury Park’s Pride will lead off the June Pride calendar with the festival and a parade featuring corporate sponsors like Skyy Vodka, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America. Festivities start at 11 am with the parade starting at the city’s train station, continuing at noon in front of the historic Convention Hall and to the event grounds until 7 pm. The party will continue on at local establishments Hotel Tides, Paradise, Georgie’s, and the new Asbury Hotel. Asbury Park’s Pride is produced by Jersey Pride Inc., a nonprofit organization that has been producing Jersey Pride since 1994.

Jersey LGBTI Pride 2016 photo by JL Gaynor
Jersey LGBTI Pride 2016 photo by JL Gaynor

North Jersey Pride is taking its celebration on the road this year to Washington, D.C., where a national LGBT march is being planned for June 11. North Jersey Pride encompasses the towns of Maplewood, South Orange, and Montclair, with the main festivities normally taking place in Maplewood. Instead of forcing festival goers to choose their event or attend the march in Washington, North Jersey Pride posted this statement on their web site:

“After much consideration, reviewing options and getting feedback from community members, we have decided not to hold our festival as previously scheduled. We do not want our attendees to have to make a choice between these two events, and moreover, where in years past, we have celebrated our past accomplishments, this year we feel that what our community needs most is to join hundreds of thousands of supporters on the streets of the nation’s capital to stand together and march for equality. The rights of LGBTQ citizens are again under attack and it is critical that we show unity and solidarity. To that end, we are taking this year’s Pride on the road. NJP will be organizing bussing down to D.C. as well as a group rate at a local hotel for those who want to stay over Saturday night. We will march as a group with our own banner on June 11 in Washington, D.C. All individuals and families will be invited to join us for a fun sign-making event prior to the march.”

Newark Gay Pride banner ad
Newark Gay Pride is July 13-16, 2017

Activism is at the root of Newark’s Gay Pride celebration, traditionally held in July. It was started in 2005 in honor of Sakia Gunn. Gunn was a 15-year-old Newark resident who was murdered in 2003 when heading home from a New Jersey Transit bus in downtown Newark. According to witnesses, Gunn, an out and proud lesbian who identified as an aggressive butch, was approached by two men and propositioned. When she turned them down, stating that she was gay, one of the men stabbed her before driving off. The ensuing outcry pushed Newark for more safe spaces for the city’s LGBT community. Richard McCullough turned himself in to police and was eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison for Gunn’s killing.

Newark Pride focuses its efforts in giving the city’s LGBT community a safe place to be, mentoring its youth and providing for its aging as well as working on services to deal with homelessness, discrimination and transgender violence. The Pride festival is produced by Newark Gay Pride in conjunction with many of Newark’s LGBT organizations. Dates have not yet been announced for this year’s celebration.

Jersey City Gay Pride 2015 photo by Steve Dovidio
Jersey City Gay Pride 2015 photo by Steve Dovidio

Diversity and acceptance is the message of Jersey City’s Pride, which will be held on Aug. 26, noon to 8 pm. It is a marquee celebration in North Jersey and the highlight of Hudson County’s Pride calendar, held on Newark Avenue between Grove Street and Jersey Avenue, in downtown Jersey City. Carmen Carrera, a North Jersey native, will be the headliner for this year’s Pride. Carrera is best known for her stint on RuPaul’s Drag Race and criticism of RuPaul’s transphobic stances. She is the 2017 Grand Marshall and this year’s recipient of the Eileen “Beanie” Gaughan award in recognition of her role as an activist and educator.

South Jersey Pride, another group based on activism, holds its annual Pride celebration in September at Cooper River Park, which spans four municipalities in Camden County. DeAnn Cox is the founder of South Jersey Pride, “a grass-root organization that promotes equality, respect, and awareness of causes important to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender questioning, and allies community of Southern New Jersey and surrounding area. We come together every September for a weekend of events, forums, and workshops in a safe and comfortable environment for our supporters to come together as one.”

Southern New Jersey Gay Pride BBQ stage in 2015
Southern New Jersey Gay Pride BBQ stage in 2015

The festival, with a laid-back, backyard BBQ feel, features a drag show and numerous speakers, who in years past have included Ms. New Jersey Leather 2014 Nikki Wireman, who spoke about her experiences with bullying. Anti-bullying is a cause close to the heart of South Jersey Pride, with an ongoing fundraiser to bring awareness to the LGBT community of bullying and its effects. South Jersey Pride will be held on Sept. 10 at Cooper River Park, 12-6 pm.

jerseypride.org

jerseycitypride.com 

northjerseypride.org

snjgaypride.org