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Jersey Pride at 25
Photo by Sherri Rase
Matt Martin and Susan Westenhoefer with 30,000 of their closest friends
(insets: View of Asbury Park post-pride Rainbow, Sherri Rase and Jordin Sparks [photo by Jess Valdenarro])

Where were you at 25? Perhaps you were just out of college, or fresh into your career. Who knows, 25 may be on the approach rather than in the rearview mirror. Either way, Jersey Pride, Inc. celebrated its 25 Annual Pride Parade, Rally and Festival on June 5, in Asbury Park, and not even Mother Nature could stand in our way!
The primary concern for Pride Coordinators is the safety of the guests at events. We monitor the weather for months in advance to the extent there should be a Pride Organizers’ edition of the Farmer’s Almanac. The forecast midweek prior to June 5 was grim indeed! Even as close as Friday afternoon, before the Sunday event, the weather people were forecasting 100% chance of rain. What?! Pride in the Mist is one thing, but Jersey Pride likes to keep the water on the other side of the beach in Asbury Park!
Set up began on June 3 with the arrival of the everyone-friendly Port-o-Sans and the volunteers were already looking for sprinkler heads. It’s like an annual ritual–locate the sprinkler lines, so that no one drives a stake in when securing a tent. Replacing the sprinkler line is expensive! We bopped through our work to the tunes coming from the newly opened hotel, The Asbury, which overlooks the newly renovated Atlantic Park. Hearing dance tunes while we worked was awesome and it set the scene for what we knew was to come–an awesome weekend. Doubly enjoyable is knowing that The Asbury is on the site where a Salvation Army building formerly stood. The Salvation Army is no ally to LGBTQ folks and the irony is delicious.
After what seemed to be a very short evening, relaxing and visiting with friends, the setup began early on the morning of June 4. While volunteers and organizers were measuring off booth spaces and working to get the large tents placed and set up, small girls in dance attire accompanied by bevies of doting parents and extended family streamed by on their way to the Paramount Theater for their recitals. It feels like we’ve always been sharing space with one another and Asbury Park’s beachy welcome is felt by everyone. We took a break in the hazy sunshine to rehydrate and have some lunch, then back measuring booth space, and making sure we were on track for The Perfect Day.
Weather Check–Dateline June 4 – Chance of rain now 67%—keep visualizing The Perfect Day…keep visualizing…
Another day ends and we shuffle back. Many of us were staying at Hotel Tides and there’s nothing like walking in and having hotelier Ryan greet us and ask how it’s all going, then walking toward the bar where our friends from NJ’s Leather Family are enjoying a refreshing drink. A good night’s sleep and we’re off again!
On June 4, morning dawned with a warm gray light and starting a bit after 7 am, and the stage and sound began to arrive in Bradley Park. Food vendors were already set up along Sunset Park and organizations and groups and pride vendors ported their wares into the lush green grass of Atlantic Park preparing for an awesome day of Pride for all of us, especially our allies and loved ones. Our parents, sisters, brothers, cousins, our children, nieces, nephews–all under a high gray ceiling. Yet, no rain! Then, around 11:30 am, a squall came through quickly … dousing us good and proper for about 15 minutes, but it left as quickly as it came, and we began to see breaks in the clouds–so much for 100% rain!
The parade stepped off at noon and the Rally Stage kicked off at 12:30pm or so. Emcees Suzanne Westenhoefer, Jersey Pride’s first and now for our 25th, shared duties with Matt Martin, as they kept the crowd engaged, did some riffs of their own and truly made what began as overcast into The Perfect Day! Oh, yes! The sun DID shine on Pride through most of the afternoon casting light over Autumn City, Angelica JONI, Daniel Alexander, shore area favorites Christine Martucci Band and Josh Zuckerman Band, Giselle, Nicollette, Mykal Kilgore, and Vinny Vero. We had a plethora of politicians including the perennial Babs Siperstein, the Monmouth County delegation, Congressman Frank Pallone who is a staunch supporter and annual attendee, and Senator Cory Booker arrived with his message of solidarity and community, all of which was interpreted by the amazing Carol Goodman and her crew of sign language experts. Jane Clementi also made a brief message of appreciation and love, reminding us that the work of the Tyler Clementi foundation and its message of love is never done.
The entire day was beautiful, rainbows and unicorns and laughing dancing people, after that sweeping morning rain and then, and then … all too soon it was time for Jordin Sparks.
Jordin Sparks is a phenomenal performer who revealed a bit of her Jersey experience, having grown up in various towns in Northern New Jersey, her father is former New York Giant Phillippi Sparks, and she was clearly loving being back in New Jersey. She gave us “Tattoo” and she gave us love. She is a dynamo onstage and when she covered Whitney Houston, the crowd went WILD! She sang through the sprinkles that cooled everyone off and, despite the threat, and ultimate downpour, which was traversing the state from Trenton, Sparks stayed until every last one of her fans, including Yours Truly, had a chance for a conversation, a warm hug and a picture. She sang an extra-long set and people who had never heard her before—imagine THAT!—became ardent fans as well. All in all, after nearly everyone had left the grounds, the rain began and moved through almost as quickly as the rain in the morning. And you know what THAT means–we crowned the day with a rainbow. Our end is our beginning, and the rainbow ties the knot on a job well done. Thank you, Jersey Pride! You’re beautiful at 25!

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