LIVINGSTON, NJ — In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots and in support of the LGBTQ+ community, the Livingston Committee for Diversity & Inclusion (LCDI), Mayor Al Anthony and members of the township council, clergy members and residents convened at Town Hall last week to raise the Pride Flag for the fourth consecutive year. The flag will fly over Livingston for the remainer of June, which is recognized nationally as "LGBT Pride Month."
The gay rights movement began in 1969 when policemen raided The Stonewall Inn, a National Historic Landmark in Greenwich Village, to enforce a law that forbade serving alcohol to homosexuals. There were many raids on gay bars at the time, but the heroes at Stonewall resisted arrest in pursuit of justice. The rebellion lasted several nights and is considered the start of the LGBTQ+ rights movement.
Prior to Livingston’s flag-raising ceremony, children at the Livingston Public Library listened to a reading of "Red: A Cryon's Story," a children's book by Michael Hall about a blue crayon mistakenly labeled as red and his struggle for identity. Although the characters work hard to help “Red” to be the color red, in the end they all realize that Red is, in fact, the color blue. Following the special reading, participants crossed South Livingston Avenue to hear from the many speakers at Town Hall.
Reverend Dan Martian of Presbyterian Church of Livingston spoke about the Stonewall Inn Riot and how far society has come with marriage and other equality laws, citing the New Jersey law banning conversion therapy and anti-bullying laws as well. He also mentioned that society must do more to ensure the safety and equality for all LGBTQ+ community members in the United States and across the globe.
“People are more supportive of the gay community now then ever, and we are all stronger together,” said Martian, who also led participants in a prayer.
The mayor stated that Livingston is a town that respects and accepts all religions, races, genders and sexual orientation, making note of Livingston Public Schools’ anti-bullying programs as well as the support from clergy members of several different religions.
“What unites us is far greater than what divides us,” said Anthony, adding that he is proud of Livingston’s solidary of all people and urging residents continue the pursuit of equal rights for all. “We need to celebrate diversity all year long, not just on Martin Luther King Day and Gay Pride Day.”
As a lifelong Livingston resident, Community Policing Officer Kevin Mullaney also described Livingston as an inclusive community where residents of different backgrounds support and respect one another. He mentioned in speaking with various groups of students, senior citizens and different religious organizations, the message is always simply to be kind to everyone.
Mullaney concluded that in terms of diversity and acceptance, “if the world were more like Livingston, it would be a better place.”
Jennifer Best, the leader of a coed Scouting Troop, explained that the troop does not identify as “Girl Scouts” or “Boy Scouts,” but rather welcomes all individuals regardless of their gender identification.
Andrew Burger, a Livingston resident who is currently a Rutgers University student, spoke about Stonewall and why Gay Pride is rooted in protest. He requested a moment of silence to honor all of the LBGTQ lives lost to violence and hate.
Jon Oliveira of Garden State Equality spoke about attending high school during a time when most people were afraid to come out as gay and when there were no role models living an openly gay life. During the ceremony, Oliviera said that raising the flag in Livingston “tells young people that they have a place in their community and in the world.”
“With his family from Livingston and in attendance, [Oliveira] made an excellent event hold more meaning than ever before,” said Fine said of this year’s event. “The diversity of our speakers and audience members was fantastic.”
LCDI co-chair told the crowd that “Livingston is a family” and that “everyone in our community are family members, no matter who or what they are.”
Fellow co-chair Billy Fine read a letter from Cory Booker announcing that he and fellow Democratic representatives Tammy Baldwin and Jeff Merkley “introduced historic, comprehensive federal legislation—the Equality Act of 2019—to explicitly ban discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.”
Rabbi Simion Cohen, the newest LCDI member, spoke of a Talmudic (a Jewish law and legend book) that debates whether the greatest teaching is that all individuals are created in God’s image, or if the greatest teaching is “to love your neighbor as you love yourself.” He concluded that recognizing that all people are created in God’s image is the least people can do and that loving everyone is the best people can do.
Cohen also accompanied on guitar as Livingston native Harry Engel led the audience in singing “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent,” which features several characters from the LGBTQ+ community.
The flag was raised after an uplifting ceremony of positive speeches highlighting how far the LGBTQ+ community has advanced and hope for a future where all people will truly have equal rights.
Anthony said he was proud to be the presiding mayor the township’s fourth Pride Flag Raising ceremony and thanked his fellow officials—Essex County Freeholder Patricia Sebold, Deputy Mayor Rudy Fernandez, council members Shawn Klein, Ed Meinhardt and Michael Vieira, Police Captains John Drumm and Thomas Smith, Police Chief Gary Marshuetz and Community Policing Officer Kevin Mullaney—for showing their support at this event.
Other dignitaries in attendance also included Jen Grisafi, representing Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill’s office, and Livingston Board of Education Vice President Ronnie Konner, representing the school district. Fine also thanked Jamiah Masjid Livingston for donating bottled water and Ike's Bagel Cafe for their donation of rainbow mini bagels and spreads to the event.
Fine noted that the moving event was made possible by the hard work of the committed LCDI members as well as the large turnout of Livingston Police Department officers and Department of Public Works workers Frank DeNick, Brian Fahy and George Goldtrap.
In speaking about the evolution of the LCDI, Fine said that the committee has undergone many changes over the last several years and that the creation of this event four years ago is among the highlights.
“This set a new direction for our committee, which had traditionally only had two-to-three events that we hosted,” said Fine. “This was the third large-scale event of the year, and as of now, we estimate it to be one of seven or eight.”
LCDI is also hosting a Women Veterans Day Ceremony on Wednesday and also plans to partner with Livingston UNICO chapter for Italian Heritage Month. Fine said that these additional events will “make LCDI a Livingston Powerhouse” and that he hopes to see a large turnout at as Livingston keeps “moving forward and growing stronger.”