“THEY ARE LOVED AND I SUPPORT ALL OF THEM”: GLBTI PRIDE TAKES OVER CITY
Heartfelt personal and community pride were on parade in full Technicolor glory Sunday at the 20th Annual GLBTI Pride celebration in Asbury Park.
“We had our best day ever this year,” said Linda Phillips, one of the organizers of the festival. “It was the highest attendance at the festival and the most well-attended parade. More spectators were gathered along the parade route to watch than ever before, too.”
The fifty minute parade, led by the Dykes on Bikes contingency traveled east on Cookman Avenue, north on Grand Avenue and east on Sunset Avenue, featured floats and performers in costumes from across the state, including the Pride Center of New Jersey, Trinity Church, QSpot Asbury Park Marching Band, Jersey Shore Roller Girls and the Morris County Gay Activist Alliance.
“I remember twelve years ago when the parade was three minutes with two floats and a truck,” said John Dodd, who came from northern New Jersey for the day, with his partner. “It’s fantastic to see how far we have come and how the day has grown.”
Local residents concurred.
“We have been coming for ten years and the floats and crowds keep getting more fantastic,” said Charlie Maffei of Asbury Park, who recently founded Charlie the Matchmaker.
Following the parade, the celebration moved to Bradley Park, in front of the Paramount Theatre, with a festival which included live music performances, food and retail booths with smiling and dancing crowds until past 6 pm.
“I come every year to support my daughter and grandson and everyone else in the gay community,” said Brigitte Hayes, who has attended the parade for fifteen years. “I want them all to know they are loved and I support all of them.”
Seemingly, people from every ethnicity, age and background attended the festivities Sunday, demonstrating their impassioned support for the GLBTI community with cheers, painted bodies, banners and rainbow-colored everything.
“It’s a blessing to have such a supportive mom and family and feel the love from strangers – the straight people around here just showing up with love need to know the gay community appreciates it,” said Nicole Searight, wiping away tears. “Asbury Park is a great city. It is the new San Francisco without the hills.”
Twenty years ago, organizers of Jersey Pride, considered a number of cities in the state as the location to hold a GLBTI pride celebration.
“We wanted something that was special to our state, something to bring the local community together that was not New York and not Philadelphia,” said Phillips. “And, from the start, we wanted it to be less political than other pride events.
Organizers chose Asbury Park because of its central location, image as a gay-friendly city and because of the beach. The day-long festivities, always on the first Sunday in June, take almost 20 full-time volunteers and 60 day-of volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 80 years old.
Today, the “Pride Weekend” encompasses three days of activities including private parties along with formal events organized by local businesses.
“At the end of the day all the volunteers relax their tired bodies knowing they succeeded in bringing together the community and its supporters for a day of enjoyment and friendship,” said Phillips.