MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Steve Mershon, longtime LGBTQ advocate and Maplewood resident, was honored at Sunday's South Orange-Maplewood Equality March with a lifetime achievement award.
The presentation of the award was a surprise to Mershon, as was the announcement that in the future the award will be named in his honor. The presentation came after the march, where some 100 people walked from Ricalton Square to the Maplewood Municipal Building with homemade signs and rainbow masks, stickers, clothing and flags.
“I don't do this for the awards, but it's very exciting and gratifying to receive it and to be recognized,” said Mershon after the presentation. “Hopefully it will inspire other people to hang in there for the long run.”
South Orange Maplewood Board of Education Member Shannon Cuttle got choked up while introducing Mershon. “We are a community of many firsts,” they said. “We stand on the shoulders of those who come before us, that stand up and speak out, that take action when nobody else is taking action.”
They noted Mershon's “heart and compassion.” They said he is a “quiet co-partner, the quiet organizer in town, but his presence over the last 35 years has been extraordinary and profound.” They noted that in addition to his governmental and business advocacy, Mershon established a scholarship for LGBT students at Columbia High School.
Deputy Mayor Dean Dafis, in telling the crowd about Mershon's community advocacy, said it went “all the way back when it wasn't in vogue, when it wasn't safe — it was truly innovative, progressive and courageous.”
Mershon moved to Maplewood in 1980, a full decade before he was out of the closet. He first came out at his workplace, where a colleague told him about a social group in Maplewood called South Mountain Neighbors. “Turned out my neighborhood was full of gay couples and I had no clue, [as] I was in the closet hiding.”
Advocating for LGBT rights, he said, has “always been a matter of persevering. If you don't get what you're asking for at first, just keep asking.” Working in corporate America, he said, “I had to keep asking for domestic partner benefits for 15 years, but I kept asking, letting the executives know that this was something that was needed and wanted.... I reminded them over and over and over, so it could never leave their minds.”
Change doesn't always have to take that long. “Here in this community we've had such great leaders,” he said, noting that years ago when he went to then-Mayor Vic DeLuca with the idea to have a Pride month proclamation, “he said 'sure, let's figure this out.' That's the kind of support that's the most exciting and that's what you find here in South Orange and Maplewood.”
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