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Jersey Pride at 20–Feel Proud
Photo by Sherri Rase
Kristine W, Lisa Lisa

Jersey Pride kicked off a dazzling event on June 5 at noon with the biggest LGBTI parade Asbury Park has seen yet. Three marching bands were featured, two hailing from Philadelphia and New York respectively, while another was made up of home grown New Jersey band-its from Q-Spot! Town officials from Asbury Park said that the parade was truly something to be reckoned with, as the bands galvanized marchers, floats, decorated vehicles, rollerblade athletes and, of course, proudly leading off the entire parade, dazzling lesbians on motorcycles!

There are pundits who glibly say that Pride is just about organizing a big party, but the roots of the celebration are in protests that happened 42 years ago. While many of us know that the Stonewall Riots were caused by Sylvia Rivera throwing the stiletto heard ‘round the world, so many of the men and women who are coming out, people of all ages and backgrounds, are completely unaware of the historical basis of the celebrations that millions of us enjoy every year. Nearly 50 years later, lesbian, gay, transgendered, bi and intersex people continue to pay cultural and governmental taxes for daring to be everything they are every time we walk out of the house. If you ever wonder whether you are brave enough to continue to do that, trust me–you ARE!

Jersey Pride was born in the wake of the addition of the words “sexual orientation and gender identity” to New Jersey’s far-reaching Law Against Discrimination. The addition occurred in 1992, after nearly 10 years of work, and activists, who worked so hard on getting that legislation passed, had a lot of energy left. The first Jersey Pride parade was modest, and that first Pride celebration garnered 500 attendees. What a difference two decades makes!

Jersey Pride, Inc. has produced larger and larger events each year, as the work that activists and individuals have done makes people comfortable to be fully themselves. Gradually, pioneers of pride were joined by more and more like-minded people. This year’s peak attendance represented 25,000 people of all ages, all genders, all sexualities–babies and children played in the Family Zone, and communities of faith discussed their philosophies next to people providing health and financial services to a large and growing market. You could bask in the teeming throngs of colorful people, or take refuge in the Zen Zone, where you could practice yoga, learn more about being less stressed, and find your voice. This event was as varied as the people who came from all over the state and over state lines, and the Rally stage was something to behold.

Kicking off the day was a performance by the combined strength of New York City’s Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps and the Philadelphia Freedom Band. Emcee Karen Williams was quick on the draw and kept the audience on their feet with her fey, gay repartee. The day was sunny and the breeze blowing in from the ocean cooled foreheads as performers like the Jersey grown talents of dance divo Mr. Goff, singer/writer Vic Della Pello, The Aster Pheonyx Project, who just released their CD and will soon open for Melissa Ferrick and Mama’s Black Sheep, who traveled up from Baltimore to heat the day even further! Neo-phenom Alyssa Ford played her first festival and will be a name you’ll hear everywhere soon. New York high energy diva Lori Michaels kicked it out, just she and the GIRLS, and Josh Zuckerman brought his full band to play the gamut of styles he’s mastered–dance, pop and the most amazing signature version of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” as he played the fiddle, and played it HOT! Crystal Waters’ presented A. Salih, a performer who danced and sang with superb high energy and a million kilowatt smile, and Aiden Leslie with his GQ good looks that were exceeded only by his talent. Lisa Lisa is acetylene energy in a tiny and powerful package–she held the Rally audience in the palm of her diminutive hand and sang “Lost in Emotion,” “All Cried Out,” “Can You Feel the Beat,” and more and had the crowd singing with her! Kristine W was the final act of the Perfect Day and, between her amazing talent as a singer, a guitarist and saxophone player and her two dancers–who are among the hardest working high energy handsome men, dashing off stage and changing and coming on almost before you knew they were gone–tuxedos and long shorts, animal prints and sequins and some very, very interesting props—dazzled us indeed. When you’re as talented as Kristine W, with 15 number one dance hits and more on the way, you know how to please a crowd. Yes. She. Did!

After the truly Perfect Day, all that remained was to dismantle what had been set up the day before–a host of volunteers had pounded snow fencing around two entire parks and an equal host brought it down. Tent rental crews, and table-and-chair rental crews, would all collect their wares, as happy people filed home from a day in the sun, eating all their carnival favorite foods—butterfly fries on a stick, anyone? Jersey Pride had moved lock, stock and barrel into several hotel rooms to use them as command central and the scores of volunteers went back to their homes, their colleges, their Pride committees–Jersey Pride was assisted by volunteers from Brooklyn Pride, Burlington County College, Heritage of Pride, The Pride Network and more. The core committee is planning its post-event meeting to discuss what went right and what can be improved and, while footsore volunteers dabbed aloe on sunburn, they were already planning for next year’s Perfect Day. Plan your own Pride Tour–you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the Pride of a small working class town, a large city Pride, a Pride for an entire region or in another country. Pride is the gift that begins with a small step and that you keep receiving for a lifetime!

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