On June 22, Governor Phil Murphy and his team celebrated Pride Month outside Drumthwacket, the Governor’s Mansion. This is the first in-person Pride celebration hosted by Governor Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy since 2019 due to the pandemic.
Speakers and performers emphasized the importance of family acceptance and called out anti-LGBTQ efforts in New Jersey and nationwide.
The world has changed in the interim — and not only because of COVID-19. In 2020, the Supreme Court’s Bostock ruling finally protected LGBTQ people from workplace discrimination nationwide. Yet the past few years have also seen a rise in fatal attacks against the trans and nonbinary community, as state legislatures across the country passed anti-LGBTQ bills that especially target trans youth. And in New Jersey, extremists have attacked everything from “critical race theory” to LGBTQ books to Drag Queen Story Hour to the state-mandated LGBTQ-inclusive health curriculum.
Clearly conscious of these attempts to roll back LGBTQ rights, Governor Murphy and his team organized an event that showcased the diversity of talent within our community — giving a platform to the LGBTQ New Jerseyans most affected: students, women of color, trans women, and drag performers. Guests included student activists from Passaic, who in March protested a local Board of Ed policy that prohibits flying the Pride flag.
Professional violinist Bri Blvck opened the event with a sublime performance, seamlessly mingling with her audience. She weaved in and out for dramatic effect, applying an exquisite bowing technique throughout. Blvck, who identifies as bisexual and lives in East Orange, said she came out four years ago. Until then, she feared coming out to her parents, she said. Nonetheless, she went for it. “My mom was just like, ‘I love you. I embrace you. I accept you.'” She worried about her father’s reaction. “He called me, and he was like, ‘I love you so much, and I don’t care who you love. I accept you. I love you.’ I’m blessed to have that.”
Poet and activist Jessica Romero Silver, a 17-year-old rising senior and activist at Lawrence High School, then took the stage. She recited a stirring political poem that discussed the sort of acceptance Blvck received from her parents. “Dear queer kids, if they don’t love you, you love you,” she enunciated with passion. “Hate hasn’t found its way into my heart. It’s too busy being in our homes, our schools, our health care systems. Hate is busy erasing queer legacy from our literature, pretending like we never existed in history in hopes that we cease to exist in their future, but it’s our future, too … Hate is the reason kids like me are scared to come out to their family.”
The Governor’s Director of Appointments Sam Parker said, “Celebrating diversity and equality within the LGBTQIA+ [community] is important for us, not just as individuals but as a movement. Allow me a moment to pause here, just to acknowledge that this movement began as a riot, not as a parade, as a demand for visibility, recognition, equity, [and] equality, not a request — led not by corporate sponsors but by trans women of color.”
“Tonight is made possible by all of the advocates and legislators who came before us. Though our cultures and our traditions may be different, there is more that unites than separates us, and that is worth celebrating. I am grateful to be part of this team that shares the same vision of equality, who sees me as an equal, not as an adversary,” Parker added.
First Lady Tammy Murphy, adorned with a pin she once received from trans activist Babs Siperstein said, “It really breaks my heart that we are gathering against a backdrop across our country of increasing intolerance. We stand by your side under an incredibly diverse rainbow banner. I know that no matter what anybody throws at us, we are going to come through victorious.”
Governor Murphy commented on the national situation. “We’re in an ‘us versus them’ world right now. You got things like ‘Don’t Say Gay’ in Florida. You’ve got corporations that are torn as to how to deal with all sorts of issues, including the Pride communities and what’s getting taught in our schools. I’m proud that we’re teaching the full, unvarnished truth of the LGBTQIA+ community. That’s New Jersey, and we will never be otherwise. We know there is bias even in New Jersey, but we will never waver having your back at every step of the way.”
Governor Murphy noted that bias incidents against our community are up. Part but not all of this increase can be attributed to the better reporting system his administration put in place he said. “But it leaves you with this question: How many incidents happened in the past when it was more difficult to report that we never heard about? I say this because I want you to know that we take this stuff deadly serious, that we are sober, that this reality exists.”
The governor then motioned to the rainbow tie he was wearing. “I’m the former U.S. ambassador to Germany, and I’ve been told over the years I’m the first U.S. ambassador ever in the world to lead what they call overseas a ‘Christopher Street Day’ parade. This is the tie that I wore in that parade, and I wear it tonight with pride.”
Murphy recounted his personal experiences with the LGBTQ community. As an actor from an early age, he realized that theater often attracts members of the LGBTQ community. “I wrote a paper in high school called, ‘Theater and Why,’ and the ‘why’ was on the disproportionate representation of the LGBTQIA+ community back then,” he said. When he attended Harvard University, he joined the Hasty Pudding Theatricals and met “some of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life,” he reminisced. “This changed me forever.”
“Those guys had trouble with their families,” he explained. “I remember one guy in particular from Texas who walked me through the struggles with his mom and dad. To have all of that already on their shoulders and to deal with a health crisis unlike any other — I was transformed by all of the above, and I’m never going back.”
Murphy addressed Jessica Romero Silver, impressed by her “courage to come out.” He explained what had occurred to him during her reading: “I was thinking the entire time about what those guys went through. [They were] a little bit older than you but only by a couple of years. Forty five years ago, not one of them in the environment that existed then could have stood up and recited your poem.”
And then came Puerto Rico-born and Trenton-raised Cyannie Lopez — host of Lipstick Mondays in New Hope. She sashayed to the stage decked out in a gemstone purple ruched ballgown and stilettos. Lopez performed to a Celia Cruz megamix, gagging her audience with her acrobatics. When “La Vida Es Un Carnaval” came on, her dress split down the middle for a fiery reveal: a sapphire thigh-level flapper dress complete with fringe for days. Then the moment happened: Lopez launched herself into the air and landed in a perfect split.
This was the first time during the Murphy Administration that a drag queen performed at Drumthwacket,. Following Lopez’s historic performance, Parker took the mic. “I just said to the governor, ‘They really have an issue with drag queens at libraries, but they never said anything about governor’s mansions!” she joked to laughs and applause.
Lopez later described her reaction to being invited to perform at the Governor’s Mansion. “At that moment, I cried,” she said. “I started performing 15 years ago, I would never think [this possible].” Seconds later, the student activists from Passaic came up and snapped pictures with her. Afterwards, Lopez reflected upon being a positive role model for the younger generation and for other trans women, who often fear putting themselves out there. “This is a blessing. I thank God.”