Though New Hope has long been a haven for the LGBTQ community, its bohemian flavor has thinned over the years due to gentrification, social and economic changes, and the effects of the pandemic. However, many tenacious people are working hard to pave the way for an exciting new chapter in which New Hope’s uniquely gay flavor — one in which our community feels safely expressed — is once again brought to the forefront.
This will be heralded in style as PrideFest 2023 swings into high gear this coming Saturday, May 20, following the annual Pride Parade that crosses the bridge from Lambertville New Jersey to New Hope Pennsylvania at 11 am.
Melissa Patterson, President of New Hope Celebrates, said she hopes for the festival to not only mark New Hope’s return to its former glories but to make clear that the borough has been — and will remain — an oasis of joy and inclusiveness for all who identify as LGBTQ.
“I cannot tell you how much this means to me and the New Hope Celebrates board, to be able to put on our Pride again this year which is also [New Hope Pride]’s 20th anniversary!” she said. “I think New Hope and Lambertville are still an LGBTQ+ haven. I often say our community here in New Hope is magical because it is such an amazing and accepting place. I do understand having our own space in places like gay bars is missed — I actually met my wife at [iconic gay bar] The Cartwheel. Still, we have organizations like NHC, Doylestown Pride, the Gay Men’s Club of New Hope, and the Rainbow Room for LGBTQ+ youth that create safe spaces for us throughout the year.”
Many Pride activists and organizers are stressing this year how safe spaces and events are more important in light of the hateful rhetoric and discriminatory legislation that’s entered national discourse. It underscores the need for Pride events and the community strength they demonstrate.
“It’s unfortunate, but the legislation being proposed around the country is something that is bringing generations together,” added Patterson. “We still have a fight ahead of us, and this is where us queer folk won’t back down.”
David A. Martin and Larry Melo are among Patterson’s fellow locals who have helped New Hope reclaim its uniquely gay flavor. Thanks to both, LGBTQ residents now have special events and gatherings catered specifically to them, as well as the relief and pleasure of a gay bar in town after a long period in which New Hope, which once had several such establishments, boasted none.
Melo, who took over ownership and management of The Cub Room, said he saw an opportunity to embark on a new adventure and give the community “a gay Cheers.”
“[The original Cub Room] was going to be turned into a wellness center [after it closed under previous management], but then I stepped in and realized a gay bar was sorely needed and thought to make it happen,” he said. “As of now, it’s the only gay bar within an hour’s drive, at least. I decided to retain some of the charm that was the old Cub Room and freshen it up a little with a couple modern touches, where it’s not specifically a piano bar but more of a lounge where great performers still come to play live music occasionally. What’s most important is that locals who remember the gay bars of yesterday’s New Hope can come and have a place where they can meet up again and feel welcome and free to be themselves.”
Martin, who has worked to contribute to the success of New Hope Pride and further Pride events in the area, is the founder of the Gay Men’s Club of New Hope, an all-inclusive LGBTQ organization that fosters camaraderie and connectedness among community members and out-of-towners alike. He is at the heart of the monthly series of karaoke-themed get-togethers and LGBTQ dance parties held at the New Hope Inn & Suites.
“I would say we’ve gotten our spark back, with what we’ve all been doing,” said Martin. “As you know, all the businesses and establishments in New Hope are LGBTQ+ friendly. That has never changed. But with The Cub Room re-opened and New Hope Celebrates, we’ve definitely got that spark back. It’s almost like a Renaissance. Plus, it’s getting better, too, when we look at this year compared to last year. We took so many punches with the loss of [iconic gay club] The Raven in October 2019 and then COVID-19 soon thereafter, but I think we can all agree we’re ready for a new day. Things may have changed, but we are ready to have our lives back.”
Part of that change was the resurrection of top-shelf drag entertainment, which began after Michael Gardner (known and celebrated in New Hope as Miss Pumpkin) asked Martin to produce a drag brunch featuring celebrated local queens. Soon Martin was booking the likes of Miss Richfield 1981 and Paige Turner, out-of-town favorites who hadn’t graced New Hope in years, and scouting up-and-comers to book alongside local talent with established followings.
“The regular entertainers who are established here are great. We need them! But we also want to bring in an influx of new talent as well,” he said. “That helps keep the rhythm of New Hope going and connects generations.”
Estee Lauderdale is a prime example. A fresh face in New Hope, Lauderdale is quickly making a name for herself in town as a self-described comedienne and emcee.
“It’s almost bittersweet being a part of the New New Hope,” she said. “I missed out on so much of the history that made it what it is today. As a young adult, I shied away from the gay community. I never got a chance to visit The Raven, I’d never heard of The Cartwheel until recently, and I’ve only been to The Cub Room since it reopened. When I meet members of the community, I hear stories of glory days that I never let myself have. Now I’m making up for lost time and entertaining a new crop of New Hope partygoers.”
This desire to seize this moment and make it count, Lauderdale said, is as pressing as it is poignant. She will keep that in mind as she graces the float for the Gay Men’s Club of New Hope during the Pride parade this coming Saturday.
“It’s incredibly important to be out and present with the community to show the bigots that we are not going anywhere,” she said. “Pride parades are a showcase of our community, a reminder of where we’ve come from, and a beacon of hope to those who are living in fear.”
Phoebe Mantrappe, a local favorite with a monthly residency she performs just down the road at Lumberville’s 1740 House, also embodies the grit and spirit of New Hope. She spoke with reverence about Pride and the importance the community continues to hold.
“I’ve actually been in this town for over 30 years now,” she said. “I was even able to work here consistently throughout the pandemic, which was not easy, but we managed to do it. We’ve gone through a lot of changes. They’ve been hard. But New Hope retains its flavor despite adversity. Our community endures.”
Crowned Miss New Hope Celebrates 2023, Mantrappe will have the distinction of riding in the first car of the parade this Saturday. She earned the honorific following a series of competitions held this spring at Bucks County Playhouse.
“I’ve been a part of the fabric of this town for a long time, which is why this title means so much to me,” she said. “I’m grateful to be able to represent them. I consider New Hope to be home.”
Lauderdale made clear that while the strength of New Hope and the wider LGBTQ community is being tested, it can rise up against hatred. “The gay community has fought too hard and sacrificed too much to be put back in the closet,” she said. “We need to band together, love each other, and stand up to those who want to take away the happiness of our friends and family.”
Patterson agreed, citing her gratitude to all who have volunteered their time and talent to bolster the efforts of NHC leading up to PrideFest. “‘Find Your Pride’” is our slogan this year because we want people to come out and be proud and live their best, most authentic lives unapologetically. Pride is such an important way for us to openly celebrate who we are and how far we have come and remind everyone how hard we will continue to fight for our equality. I hope everyone will come out and celebrate with us!”
PrideFest 2023 launches this weekend. The Pride Parade commences at 11 am this Saturday, May 20, at Lambertville City Hall, where New Jersey’s first same-sex marriages were performed in 2013.
For more information on these events and others throughout the season visit NewHopeCelebrates.com and TheGayMensClubofNewHope.com.