HAWTHORNE, NJ - The Hawthorne Pride Alliance, established on June 17 by Mayor Richard Goldberg, held its first public event Wednesday evening in the parking lot of the Municipal Building. Wednesday, which was also Bisexual Awareness Day, brought the Alliance into full public view with the mayor, borough council, and police department present. The keynote speaker of the event was Christian Fuscarino, the executive director of Garden State Equality, the largest LGBTQ advocacy organization in New Jersey.
The Alliance had a table with some pre-packaged refreshments for the approximately 50 guests who came to see. There was also a small tribute set up in memory of the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg whose casket is in repose at the Supreme Court until 10:00 p.m. Thursday. Justice Ginsberg was a strong advocate for the rights of the LGBT community and women.
Mayor Goldberg began the program by welcoming those gathered, sitting in folding chairs spread out over the parking lot. "The Hawthorne Pride Alliance was formed as a non-partisan advisory committee to the mayor, so the committee could educate the public on issues important to the LGBT community, and in return teach that community that local government is available for everyone. It seems to me that the biggest problem that this committee faces, what the community faces, is xenophobia, the fear of the unknown. We must work together to break down barriers to bring people together. We need to talk about what unites us, not what divides us. Tonight, we attempt to shed light on this community so that the public can have a better understanding. This community are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our friends and they deserve to live in peace in Hawthorne."
Mayor Goldberg welcomed Fuscarino, "We are thrilled that you came and you're our first speaker for the Pride Alliance. You are always welcome here and we hope that you'll come often. Furthermore, I am grateful to members of the borough council for their support of the Hawthorne Pride Alliance as we recognize all people in town. I'm also thankful for my chair, Mike Stracco, and all the members of the Alliance whose tenacity, grit, and hard work have made tonight possible. I look forward to the next event in October and all of us are working together as we move forward."
Mayor Goldberg then asked the attendees to bow their heads for a moment of reflective prayer. He introduced Vice Chairman Lyle Hatch to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, emphasizing the word "all".
Chairman Stracco stepped to the podium and recognized gathered dignitaries, members of the Hawthorne borough council, and the Hawthorne police department
Stracco spoke of his late grandfather, Ralph DiMarcantonio, and the values of equality instilled in him as a child. "'You are not better than me and I am not better than you. We are equal,' were the words that someone close to my heart once said. That person was a United States Marine, a businessman, a [Paterson] councilman, a husband, a father, but for me, he was my grandfather. To a young boy growing up, those words were just words of that guiding grandfather looking out for his friends, family and grandchildren. Little did I know, that at the time, my grandfather was instilling in me the idea of equality.... If we unpack those words, and examine them closely, they would actually mean, 'I care more about our friendship or relationship than about egos.' Over and over again, my grandfather modeled, in a time of uncertainty, what it was like to be kind to each other, understand each other to educate each other and to remind each other that we are equal."
Stracco referred to Justice Ginsburg when she said, "Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you." Stracco continued, "I am surrounded and humbled to work with a wonderful group of people who have worked very hard since the inception of the Alliance to move forward with the idea of equality."
Asking the members to step forward, Stracco introduced the Alliance: Lyle Hatch (Vice Chairman), Thomas Bushnauskas (Social Media Coordinator, Secretary to the Alliance and County Liaison), Bradley Campbell (Community Outreach Coordinator), Jen Ehrentraut (Policy and Legislation Coordinator), Lauren Kahn (Student Liaison), Pete Oneglia (Social Outreach Coordinator), Erica Prinzo (Public Relations Coordinator), Tara Temprano (Education Coordinator), and Leon Wilson (Health and Wellness coordinator).
Stracco said, "I am honored to introduce our guest speaker this evening, Christian Fuscarino, the Executive Director of Garden State Equality. Christian is here tonight to formally launch the first of many public events sponsored by the HPA. Since a young age Christian has been involved in shaping public opinion and aiming to increase the rights for the LGBT community. In 2007, Christian produced a public service announcement that won an Emmy award from the National Academy of Arts and Sciences for the way it approached the public perception of the LGBT community. In 2008, he founded The Pride Network. Previously, he worked at the Hudson Pride Connections Center and in 2013, he joined Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice. He is also a frequent writer and contributor to The Huffington Post and NJ.com on LGBTQ related matters. He joined Garden State Equality in 2016. His work with the LGBT community led him to be recognized by Politicker NJ and The New York Observer in their Power 100 list in 2016." Fuscarino was also named to the 2020 Insider 100: Millennials Power List by Insider NJ.
"We thank you for your service to Garden State Equality and we look forward to working with you as we continue to grow as the Alliance," Stracco said. "We also ask you to thank your husband, a United States Marine, for his service to our nation."
Fuscarino thanked the mayor, council, and Alliance for inviting him to Hawthorne. "This is a big moment. Activism and community building doesn't happen on social media, it happens locally in communities, towns, and cities where you turn to your neighbor and connect with them personally. That's why you see such a diverse group of individuals here tonight, different party affiliation, ages, genders, sex, sexual orientations, by starting this Alliance, you are doing community organizing, you have answered the call, you're not sitting on Facebook and just posting day after day, you're taking that energy and turning it into action and I commend you." Fuscarino referred to the passing of California's Proposition 8, which restricted same-sex marriage in that state in 2008. "At the time, it was impossible to imagine a loss more painful until a year later, marriage equality legislation failed in a pivotal vote here in New Jersey. After all these years, as we've continued to bend the moral arc of the universe more towards justice, it is meaningful that so many of you showed up tonight, it's meaningful that you are doing the important work. The reality is, after we won marriage equality, many of our allies, many in our community wiped their hands and said the job was done. But you are here tonight because you know what I know, this work is not done. We are still here pursuing a more equal state. And Garden State Equality in partnership with community organizations like this are pioneering that path forward."
Fuscarino said that advocacy continues because "we know students are still bullied in schools, we know that black trans lives matter, we know that our elders deserve to live out their final years in a world that sees their full selves, where they don't have to go back into the closet out of fear of being abused in a new home."
Fuscarino said that groups trying to pressure LGBT figures from being discussed in classrooms in defiance of state law. "We know the consequences of young people not seeing themselves reflected in the lessons they learn. Bullying rates are higher and the overall quality of life for young LGBTQ people is lower. And with the tenth anniversary of Tyler Clementi's passing, we are reminded of how important it is to eradicate bullying. That's why this group is so important. The Trevor Project recently reported that just one affirming adult can save a young LGBTQ person's life--just one... Just by letting them know that you love them, and that you are there for them, that can save their life."
As Fuscarino spoke, he said that "this type of work is beyond simply passing laws... true equality exists beyond the letter of the law. To get there, we have to change the culture and climate of our state... lead here in a way where folks from around the state will look to you for what is next."
Mayor Goldberg presented Fuscarino with his challenge coin in appreciation for his attendance. "A few years back I had a challenge coin minted. I will tell you the history of challenge coins started in the military. When soldiers met at a bar, everyone would put their challenge coins on the bar and whoever had the highest ranking would drink for free. You will never drink for free with my challenge coin," the mayor said, drawing laughs.
"I also wanted to share a story," Mayor Goldberg said. "I hired Tyler's dad, he worked for us in the borough of Hawthorne. I remember opening an email from him the morning after Tyler committed suicide and just marveled at the strength of the individual who recounted what happened. You could read his pain in every line, and it is something for ten years I never talked about. I have tremendous respect for Joe and Jane. When they suffered the loss, we all suffered the loss in Hawthorne. As we come upon the tenth anniversary, it is something that is still fresh in all of our minds."
Mike Stracco said that the Hawthorne Pride Alliance was now up and running on Facebook and Instagram. He said that the next program held in October would have Jen Erhentraut, Clementi's cousin, give a presentation on the effects of bullying. November would have "a social justice activity for our LGBT homeless," and December would have a fundraiser, "so we can provide a scholarship to a graduate of Hawthorne High School who is going forth in the world to make a difference."
Stracco thanked everyone for their attendance. "We look forward to seeing you around town and we will be out and about, pun intended. Continue to be safe and we will see you soon."
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