GLEN ROCK, NJ – The ethos of the 1960s emanated from Wilde Memorial Park in Glen Rock when dozens of tie-dye-wearing community members gathered to witness the unfurling of the rainbow flag--symbolic of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) pride--hoisted to mark the borough’s official kick-off of Pride Month on June 1.
“To kick off Pride Month and to raise the Glen Rock pride flag for the second year in a row, it’s now the third anniversary of marriage equality becoming the law of the land,” Congressman Josh Gottheimer said to an applauding crowd. “I couldn’t be more proud of that decision and to be from a state that really understands that tolerance is not the same thing as respect, and it’s not the same thing as equality and it’s not the same thing as inclusion and love.”
Organized by the Glen Rock Pride Committee, nearly 100 people constituting state and local government leaders, families with their small children, students and friends braved hot and humid temperatures at the stroke of noon June 1 to hear heartfelt, eloquently delivered speeches given by a slew of keynote speakers. Along with Gottheimer, an LBGT advocate, and former Assemblyman Tim Eustace, who authored the bill to ban conversion therapy in New Jersey, there were speakers along with civilians who shared their own personal stories as gay citizens.
Gottheimer introduced a bipartisan bill “The Freedom from Discrimination and Credit Act of 2017” when he joined the LGBT equality caucus in congress in recent years.
“When adopted, my bipartisan legislation will amend the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which is currently allowed,” he explained. “In too many states, LGBT individuals can still be denied a mortgage, a credit card, student loans or other type of lending simply because of who they are and who they love. Unacceptable.”
While he said the country is not there yet on a federal level, the large crowd present at the flag raising that afternoon, which he called “an important symbol that hate and intolerance have no place in any of our communities,” is a start.
“While we are not at that promised land yet, we are making critical progress and there is plenty of light breaking through and shining down on us today,” Gottheimer said. “I can see a little rainbow if you actually look in the sky right now.”
Jacob Rudolph, a Parsippany native and University of Miami graduate who gained national recognition after a video of him coming out as an LGBT teen during an awards ceremony went viral with more than 2 million views, enlightened attendees of the meanings behind the flag’s six colors designed by late gay rights activist Gilbert Baker.
“Rainbows come to our awareness as a revelation. They are present at all times yet only reveal their incredible beauty when reflected through the prisms of water drops and struck by light at just the right angle,” explained Rudolph. “The rainbow flag will fly here for the next month and so it is my hope that as you see it flying when you drive down the street you will think of the flag’s creator, Gilbert Baker, who died last year.”
Red, he said, is symbolic of long life and living without fear while orange – a color which some people were sporting that afternoon to advocate for gun violence – represents healing and inner courage, Rudolph said. Green represents nature, blue, serenity like the sky, purple the spirit and yellow the sunlight.
“The warmth of the sun reminds us of this journey of strength and happiness beyond shame and doubt,” he said. “It’s that feeling you get when it’s been raining for two weeks and Memorial Day was cloudy and Pride weekend might be a little cloudy, but then the sun comes out and you know what you’re actually living for.”
The flag, Rudolph explained, is reflective of spreading the ideals of peace and love and to respond to hatred with inclusion and passion over social media wars and vitriol.
Anna Wong, a first-generation Chinese-American who is a lesbian and a cofounder of the NJ5 Coalition and Action Together, NJ’s Northeast Regional Director, who relocated to Bergen County from New York City, said Glen Rock is where she began her community activism. She “has experienced hate in many forms,” having been racially bullied in her youth and sexually harassed as a woman, she said.
“But by far, being gay has brought the most consist discomfort from the world around me,” she mused. “I’ve received and witnessed countless homophobic slurs. I felt the fear of assault, the fear of suicide. The fear of not feeling safe. And to this day, I’m most often called ‘sir.’ I get glared at in restrooms. When I’m with my wife, just holding her hand in public requires a quick gut check of how brave I’m feeling in the moment. But the fact is what I’ve felt my entire life is what most people feel in the LGBTQ community or what they would consider fortunate. I’ve been quite privileged in spite of what I’ve felt.”
Wong said she made her first friend in Glen Rock, but not her last. Every person at the flag raising that afternoon wore their show of support on their shirts as disco hit “We are a Family” blared the speakers.
“I’m just here to support the community, and love is love,” said Glen Rock resident Laura Beit-Zuri, whose orange lipstick matched her headband. “Equal rights for everyone.”
“I’m so excited that this town is embracing diversity and celebrating all the different kinds of love there are in the world,” said Mary Barchetto, who is running for Glen Rock Borough Council. “And making it a safer, more accepting, loving environment for people of all walks of life.”
“I think it’s really important for our society to be very accepting,” said Cat Merkle, a Glen Rock High School student who performed the National Anthem a cappella. “And I have a lot of friends involved in the alliance and in the community themselves so I’m here to show them that I’m here if they ever need anything and I accept them for who they are even if other people don’t.”
Reverend Mark Collins, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Glen Rock, who also addressed the sweat-soaked crowd during the day’s event, said “the faith that they profess has no place in it for bigotry.”
“As president of Religious Communities of Glen Rock I can tell you that of the many different things that our communities of faith hold to be holy, hatred is not one of them. Maybe we can be faulted for not raising this flag in June of 1969 at the time of the Stonewall uprising in New York City, or perhaps we wish we had the courage to raise this flag during the worst ravages of the AIDS crisis. Perhaps our respect, our inclusion, our acceptance was still too new then; too shy to come out into the open. But if there was ever a time in which we should – come out – come out into the open as people who value diversity, acceptance and yes, pride in who we are and pride in who everyone is, if there was ever a time to hoist this flag then now is certainly that time. So let us raise this flag and with it raise our hopes that Glen Rock and all the world might someday be a place in which all God’s children are loved and respected and valued.”
Wong noted that 40 percent of LGBTQ youths comprise the 1.6 million young people who are homeless due to family rejection because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, some of which have experienced physical, emotional and sexual abuse. She added that 41 states don’t protect LGBTQ youths from conversion therapy and half the country lacks laws against discrimination against hate crimes.
Gottheimer said he is working "tirelessly" on legislation to amend the existing civil rights laws to ensure they all include non-discrimination protection for the LGBT community. He, like many others, clung to the wisdom of 1960s activist vanguards from Harvey Milk to Martin Luther King, Jr. who have been vocal about gay rights since the Stonewall Riots of 1969.
To instill hope in a growingly tolerable society before the flag was raised, Gottheimer left attendees with a quote from Milk: “It takes no compromise to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom.”
“The significance for us in raising this flag is huge,” said Councilwoman Amy Martin before Police Officer Matt Stanislao raised the flag. “I am so proud of Glen Rock. Our small town embraces our most important rights as Americans. The right that every single human being is created equal.”