A history of LGBTQ Pride in New Jersey

Rainbow flag unfurled at Jersey Pride 2019 in Asbury Park taken by Alasia James
Photo from Jersey Pride 2019 in Asbury Park taken by Alasia James

Pride events in New Jersey have a history deeply rooted in the activism and struggle for LGBTQ rights. The origins of Pride in New Jersey are intertwined with the history of Pride itself. Pride month is celebrated each June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York, a resistance and series of protests that followed a police raid on the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969.

The resistance inspired activists to plan and organize a march known as the Christopher Street Liberation Day March to commemorate the uprising during the first Gay Pride Week at the end of June. On June 28, 1970, the first Pride marches were held in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago on the one-year anniversary of the uprising.

In New Jersey, it took a longer time for the state to have its own Pride parades. New Jersey’s first was in Asbury Park in 1992. It was inspired by changes to the state’s Law Against Discrimination, which was amended to protect sexual orientation. The New Jersey Lesbian & Gay Coalition fought for the amendment and created a parade committee for this Pride event. Asbury Park was chosen for its decades-long history of being a safe space for the LGBTQ community, with various gay bars and involvement with LGBTQ activism.

Before Asbury Park’s Jersey Pride, the closest large Pride marches could be found only in Philadelphia and New York. The LGBTQ community of New Jersey finally had its very own New Jersey location for a Pride event. There were an estimated 1,500 attendees at Jersey Pride during its first year. Last year, there were more than 25,000 attendees at the 31st annual Jersey Pride in Asbury Park.

The origins of Pride in New Jersey began long before Jersey Pride in Asbury Park. Gay activist groups had their gatherings stretching back decades before 1992. The Gay Activist Alliance in Morris County, founded in 1972, was one of the earliest activist groups that formed in New Jersey. It provided social gatherings and its members were at the forefront of gay rights activism and protesting anti-gay laws. Along with other gay activist groups, they met at churches and organized events and protests across the state. New Jersey repealed its sodomy law in 1978. The same year, a bill was introduced to re-criminalize homosexuality. Activist groups rallied together to successfully fight against and defeat the bill.

The number of Pride parades and festivals in New Jersey increased after the first Pride in Asbury Park, but not without facing challenges. In 2001, Jersey City residents applied for and were denied a grant from the city for an LGBTQ Pride festival. They celebrated their event in its first year without the support of the city.

In 2005, the Newark Pride Festival was founded following the devastating murder of Sakia Gunn, a lesbian targeted for her sexual orientation, in Newark. Pride marches and events during the 2010s celebrated and fought for historic legislative wins, such as the fight for marriage equality in New Jersey in 2013 and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” nationwide in 2010.

An increased number of Pride events began to blossom across the Garden State in recent years. North Jersey Pride Festival began with a picnic in a Maplewood park in 2011, attracting a gathering of 150 people. Thousands have been in attendance ever since that first event.

In-person Pride events were shuttered in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw the first virtual Pride events. Many more towns have seen the beginnings of their first Pride events since the pandemic. Last year, the Montclair Pride Festival attracted tens of thousands of attendees in only its second year of existence. Since 2022, Pride events have made their return in full force with numerous in-person events and festivities throughout the state.

At June/July 2024 Out In Jersey magazine print issue deadline there were 37 New Jersey LGBTQ Pride events planned. Even more are now on the Out In Jersey website and are schduled this summer.

As Pride in New Jersey continues to evolve and grow, with dozens of Pride events planned for this upcoming June, there is recognition of the ongoing challenges facing the LGBTQ community. Increasing legislative threats in the form of anti-LGBTQ bills both throughout the nation and within the state serve as a reminder of the work still to be done in the fight for equality. The history of Pride in New Jersey is a testament to the power of community, resilience, and activism in the face of adversity.

From its activist beginnings to its present-day celebrations, Pride has played a vital role in advancing LGBTQ rights and visibility throughout the state. Pride will continue to serve as a beacon of hope and solidarity for LGBTQ individuals and allies inspiring positive change and fostering a more inclusive and equitable society for all.

For a complete listing of all of the New Jersey area LGBTQ Pride events visit our website and check events page.