LIVINGSTON, NJ — Members and allies of Livingston’s LGBTQ+ community came together at the Memorial Oval last week to raise the Pride Flag, a rainbow flag whose six colors symbolize life, healing, sunlight, nature, harmony/peace and spirit, respectively. The Livingston Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (LCDI) hosted the flag raising for the third year in honor of Pride Month, and the flag will fly over Livingston for the rest of June.

Mayor Ed Meinhardt, the LCDI’s council liaison for the past three years, spoke of the importance of forging bonds among all residents regardless of income, race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. He said that this flag raising symbolizes the commitment to “defining our community as broadly as possible.”

“Everyone is part of many communities: a work community, a school community, a neighborhood community, or a community of people with similar interests, like politics, sports or just about any other subject under the sun,” he said. “Technically, we in the community of Livingston are defined by our geography—members of our community are those who live within our borders. However, we cannot let the technical definition alone define us. It is the commitment of everyone who lives in Livingston to do his or her part to create the greatest sense of community possible within these borders.”

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Meinhardt thanked the members of the LCDI for everything they do for the township throughout the year, and also acknowledged his fellow council members, Essex County Freeholder and longtime Livingston resident Pat Sebold and Livingston Board of Education President Ronnie Konner for their presence at the ceremony.

LCDI chair Susan Berkenbush, who spoke of Livingston’s population of nearly 30,000 as being “wonderfully diverse across [all] dimensions,” noted that one of the key goals of the LCDI is to “contribute in a meaningful way to Livingston’s social health by helping to create a sense of belonging” for all those who live there.

“To do that, we must work together to cultivate mutual respect, build trust and strengthen and unify our community,” she said. “Understanding our differences fosters belonging and inclusion.”

Berkenbush added that similarly to recent ceremonies celebrating the independence of Israel and India, the Pride Flag raising is one that helps those in the community stand together as neighbors, friends, family and colleagues to “build bridges and connect with each other.”

“Regardless of how we identify, our sexuality and gender identity are essential aspects of who we are,” said Berkenbush. “We all deserve to safely live our truth and we must support and protect each other as we do so. Fortunately, Livingston is a progressive community. We are moving beyond tolerating differences to accepting, embracing and synthesizing them to create something better.”

Officer Kevin Mullaney, who spoke on behalf of the Livingston Police Department’s Community Policing Unit, echoed the comments of those who spoke about Livingston’s diversity and the community’s continued efforts to celebrate each other’s differences. Looking out into the crowd, Mullaney noted that he saw people of all different ages, professions and backgrounds standing by to support the LGBTQ+ community, just as they did for the Israeli community when the Israeli flag was raised in April.

“[The Israel at 70 event] was a celebration of not only the diversity present in our special community, but also a celebration of the support, respect and hospitality that exists in Livingston,” he said. “In the same way tonight, the Livingston community stands together in solidarity as the rainbow flag is raised in honor of Pride Month. This is once again not just a celebration for one specific group or cause, but rather a celebration of Livingston. It is a celebration that we live and work in such a progressive, welcoming, fair and inclusive community.”

As a longtime Livingston resident and a member of the Community Policing Unit, Mullaney said he has had the privilege of living, working and interacting with very diverse groups of people, and that nights like this affirm that there is no community he would rather serve.

“While our diversity makes us distinct, our bond as members of the Livingston community makes us unified,” said Mullaney. “Tonight showcases that we, as the people of Livingston, are truly in this together.”

At the conclusion of her speech seen below, the co-president of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) at Livingston High School (LHS) read the names of LGBTQ+ who were killed in 2017 and led the crowd in a moment of silence.  

Andrew Burger, an active LCDI member and LHS Class of 2016 alumnus spoke about the flag’s creator, Gilbert Baker, and the symbolism of the flag, which he said was created to replace the pink triangle—a logo that gay men were forced to wear in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Baker believed a flag would be a more positive symbol, and one that would have a larger impact on the community, Burger explained.

“The flag itself means a lot to the LGBTQ+ community,” said Burger, who also explained the meaning of each color. “The varying colors of the flag is also a symbol of the diversity of people within the LGBTQ+ community, meaning diversity among race, religion, gender, sexuality and other identities. Events like these show, to put it simply, it’s okay to be gay, or a lesbian, or bisexual, or pansexual, or transgender, intersex, asexual, queer, non-binary, or any other identity that has faced marginalization in the past.”

Burger, a student in the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, added that he has met too many LGBTQ+ individuals, even in Livingston, who have been “too afraid to come out because they’re afraid that their family might reject them.”

“It’s so disheartening to see that this is still a reality in 2018,” he said. “I hope this event is a message to them and to anyone of any age who is afraid to come out that it gets better.”

Early in the ceremony, members of the 28th South Mountain Baden-Powell Scouts’ Association (BPSA), which offers a community-oriented traditional scouting program for youth and adults of all genders, led the crowd in the flag salute. The 28th South Mountain BPSA is the first BPSA scouting group in New Jersey, according to Berkenbush. It is not affiliated Boy Scouts of America/Girls Scouts USA, but offers the experience of scouting to anyone who wishes to join.

Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz of Temple B’nai Abraham and Rev. Dan Martian of the Presbyterian Church of Livingston each recited prayers for those in attendance. Dantowitz, who worked hard to bring marriage equality in New Jersey, also honored the memory of her sister, who inspired Dantowitz to pursue justice and quality for LGBT individuals, as well as a high school classmate of hers who was laid to rest the same day as the flag-raising ceremony.

Just before raising the flag, LHS Class of 2010 alumnus Harris Engel serenaded the crowd with his rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which can be viewed below:

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