GLBTI PRIDE 2013: “LOVED AND HAPPY… WHAT MORE CAN A MOM ASK FOR?”
Diversity, acceptance and, of course, pride were all on full-color display as large as a rainbow Sunday during the 22nd Annual LGBTI Pride Celebration in Asbury Park.
“I am proud to be here to support my daughter and her fiancé,” said Kathy Meyer, of Hackettstown. “I came to the parade for the first time last year after she told me she was gay. It took some time for me to understand and I learned a lot here. I am proud of my wonderful daughter Stephanie and want her to feel loved and be happy. Everyone here deserves to be and feel loved. What more can any mom ask for?”
The 45-minute parade stepped off at noon from City Hall and made its way past cheering crowds east on Cookman Avenue ultimately ending at the festival grounds in front of the Paramount Theater in Bradley Park.
The organizers estimate 15,000 to 20,000 people – ranging from toddlers to seniors – attended the parade or festival. Some brought their dogs, accessorized with rainbow bandanas and collars to the parade.
“It’s a fun day that also means something,” said Nikki D’Antona of Brick. “I know it is important for gay people to see the support from straight people.”
Singer Kathy Sledge of “Sister Sledge” headlined the festival in-between late-day raindrops. Earlier in the day, gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono spoke to the crowd stating that, if elected, the first legislation she would sign would be for marriage equality.
“The parade is awesome,” said Matt Addonizio, 20, from Barnegat, who came with five friends. “It is fun to walk around and see other people like you holding hands and living like they want to. Hopefully New Jersey will have same sex marriage soon. That would make this day even better.”
What began 22 years ago as a minutes-long parade that many were fearful to be seen at, has grown into a full-on, Technicolor celebration of life for GLBTI community members and their supporters.
“Life 40 or 30 years ago was horrible living as a lesbian,” said a 62 year old woman choking back tears who identified herself as Irma from Lakewood. “We were afraid for our jobs and lived our ‘true’ lives in secret. We would never have come to something like this back then. Things have really changed and what this parade stands for, to my partner and I, is that things are all right and getting better every year.”
Organizers originally chose Asbury Park to host the Pride Celebration two decades ago because of its central location, image as a gay-friendly city and the beach. As well, township officials have always been supportive of the event itself. The day-long festivities, always on the first Sunday in June, take the energy of 20 year-round full-time volunteers and 60 day-of volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 80 years old.
Today, “Pride Weekend” encompasses three days of area activities including private parties along with formal events organized by local businesses.