Sal Susino: Daring to be different

Asbury Park Leather community activist Sal Susino
Asbury Park, NJ Leather community activist Sal Susino
Personal Profile

“All young people regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe, supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential,” Harvey Milk.

In November of 2016, Sal Susino and his husband Dion Daly-Susino, received the 2016 Harvey Milk Community Advocate Award through the Pride Network for their community service in Asbury Park, NJ. Together since 1983, the couple has spent the last 33 years as community activists and mentors.

Asbury Park Leather community activist Sal Susino
Asbury Park Leather community activist Sal Susino.

In the 1980s, they organized the first AIDS fundraiser in Asbury Park and the first NAMES AIDS Quilt Project Memorial Chapter in NJ. Out In Jersey had the privilege of speaking to Sal about his passion for helping the community, daring to be different, and being the Den Daddy of the Jersey Boys of Leather.

Sal grew up in Queens, NY, and settled in Asbury Park. He recalled the “gritty days” of Asbury Park, when there were more gay bars in town than there are today. With sadness, he spoke about the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic struck; taking the lives of almost all his friends by the time he was 30 years old. He said his generation did what they could to give the youth of today a better life. Sal said he lives “fiercely” so that the LGBT community of today “is not driven back into the closet.”

It is no surprise that Sal’s chosen profession is in social work. As an outreach coordinator, he is involved in counseling and HIV testing in Asbury Park, along with providing housing for marginalized populations. He was involved in the development of the Comprehensive HIV planning for the State of New Jersey. Their role is to unite HIV prevention and care in the most effective way throughout the state.

Sal Susino and husband Dion Daly-Susino
Sal Susino and husband Dion Daly-Susino.

Sal has no plans to retire and said, “There is always work to be done.” Living with that motto, Sal and his husband Dion are champions for their community.

In June of 2016, a week following the Pulse shooting in Orlando, over 100 people marched in Asbury Park at the 7th Annual Garden State Equality Walk. Honoring the victims, Sal spoke to the crowd, ”Today, I am here to tell you to continue to dance in the face of disaster. It’s our birthright.”

Sal also leads the NJ Leather Family, producing 17 years of the Mr. & Ms. NJ Leather competitions. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Leather Heart Foundation, a charity that helps those in financial need. Their production company, Dragonslair Productions is a community-based company, which sponsors events and does fundraising.

Together, Sal and Dion have raised over $100,000 dollars for charities, including helping youth in halfway houses. He prides himself on proving that leather can have a home in the suburbs, volunteering and providing a history of the Leather community. He received the Northeast Pantheon of Leather award in 2012, and is the Den Daddy of the Jersey Boys of Leather.

Sal uses his position as a strong advocate for mentoring and advises today’s LGBT youth to find a mentor, and encourages his friends to become a mentor. Sal said his biggest advice is “not to be afraid to be ourselves.” As a member of the Bear community, Sal teaches youth that it is okay not to have the same body type and that everyone should “dare to be different.” Daring to be different is how Sal lives his life.

Sal said the secret to a good marriage is sharing life together as best friends. He and his husband Dion love to cook and garden together, and open their home to their friends, and have built a large family of choice.

Sal said he is motivated as a “leather man” and needs to explore the world, finding life never boring. He believes that relationships are different for everyone, and we should live life “fiercely.”

A lesson to take away from a man with a heart “fiercely” carried on his sleeve.

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