Sussex County group says LGBTQ bigotry came out in time for Pride

Sussex County Pride logo 2020

Sussex County Pride organization refuses to back down on proclamation request

Sussex County Pride asked County Commissioners to recognize June as LGBTQ Pride Month. The commissioners however have denied the request saying the group had failed to request and submit the item for discussion 30 days before the meeting.

The meeting was attended by over a dozen LGBTQ people and allies on Wednesday, June 9. The commissioners said that due to the request not being submitted 30 days before the meeting date they could not act on it and therefore it could not be approved. The Sussex County Pride (SSP) folks in attendance noted that the commissioners amended their agenda to include two additional items at the beginning of this meeting—but not the LGBTQ Pride recognition.

Last year, many of the folks in attendance proposed a similar resolution and requested the rainbow flag to be flown outside the county’s office building on Sprint Street in Newton. During the meeting last year, the board members had also stated they were not given the resolution in time to review it. However, at the following meeting date (June 24, 2020) with one week left in Pride Month, they did approve the resolution.

Commissioner Chris Carney pointed out that June is Pride month every year, and that the public should have been more proactive and submitted their request months in advance. Sussex County Pride disagreed. “The responsibility of our elected officials to caring about the LGBTQ+ community should not fall on the taxpayers,” said the group in a press release.

Republican County Commissioner Dawn Fantasia said that the Sussex County Board of Commissioners declared June Pride month last year, and that because they received “feedback” for using President Trump’s 2019 comments, they would not proclaim June as LGBTQ+ Pride month this year. The “feedback” last year was from Sussex County Pride. In 2020 the group thanked the commissioners for the proclamation but then criticized them for praising President Trump. Trump had just rolled back healthcare protections for transgender individuals.

“So I’m coming to the conclusion,” said Fantasia, “that the board supporting any initiative is not the purpose. Shame on you for making this political. The Democratic Party does not have a lock on love or who you love….”

Zoe Heath, the founder and executive director of Sussex County Pride
Zoe Heath, the founder and executive director of Sussex County Pride

At this point in the meeting the dozen or so SSP folks walked out of the meeting in protest—with the exception of Zoe Heath, the SSP Executive Director. She remained for the conclusion of the meeting. Afterward she said, “Our commissioners had the opportunity to prove their own point, that this isn’t a partisan issue, and pass this resolution. Instead, the board insulted and attempted to shame myself and other community leaders for caring about the LGBTQ+ community.”

“Commissioner Fantasia, we’re glad you agree that love is love. Sexuality isn’t the only aspect of the LGBTQ+ community, gender is just as big a part of our community,” said SSP in a press release. “When there has been a wave of anti-trans legislation across the country, simply saying ‘love is love’ and nothing else doesn’t make you and your colleagues allies, nor does it absolve you of your bigotry.”

Republican Commissioner Yardley also complained about the SSP groups criticism. “It amazes me how this board gets attacked over a smirk. I was smirking,” he said. ”Well, you know what? That’s how I look sometimes. I don’t understand. I understand your passion about your views, but we’re supposed to respect….”

SSP responded in a press release to Yardley, “LGBTQ+ are not discriminated against, beaten, and murdered for our views. It happens to us because of our identity. You can change your views, unlearn your bigotry and bias. We cannot change our identities. While Sussex County Pride is a non-partisan organization with no formal ties or endorsement of any party, pride is political. Our oppressors have made pride political across the county for years. As long as the LGBTQ+ community has to fight for equal protection under the law and for our rights, it will always be political.”

In nearby Morris County the commissioners passed a resolution observing June as Pride Month on Wednesday night.