NUTLEY, NJ - During the public comment portion of the July 16 Board of Commissioners meeting Rhonda Frobose of Nutley commended the three commissioners who signed June’s Pride Month proclamation and asked Alphonse Petracco and Steven L. Rogers to add their signatures.
Last month, the Nutley Board of Commissioners passed a proclamation declaring June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month. It was discovered only Mayor and Public Works Commissioner Joseph P. Scarpelli, Revenue and Finance Commissioner Thomas J. Evans and Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mauro G. Tucci signed it. See related story: Nutley Proclaims June as Pride Month.
“First I wanted to thank you Mayor Dr. Scarpelli, Commissioner Tucci and Commissioner Evans for not hesitating to support our residents when I requested that Nutley make a public statement in support of our LGBTQ residents in honor of June being Pride Month,” said Frobose.
She didn’t expect the quick response and support she received.
Since the proclamation announcement, people reached out to Frobose that she never met, thanking her. “They thought they were all alone and they were afraid, their children grew up, if they were a parent of a gay or transgender or bisexual child, [they] moved away and didn’t want to stay in Nutley. Parents were told to not talk about it,” said Frobose.
According to Frobose, times are changing due to the internet and social media, voices are amplified. “Before the internet, messages we heard were primarily negative, because people who did show support did it quietly,” she said. “My message is, it’s time to not be quiet anymore, because that wasn’t working,” she added.
She said this helps not only the LGBTQ+ residents and their families but everyone “We’re all related to, live next door to, work with; on a daily basis interact with people who are LGBTQ and we may not even know it. When we remove the mystery, we remove the shame and discover we have new friends and new relationships,” she said.
Frobose provided mental health statistics about the LGBTQ+ community. According to the Human Rights Campaign 2019 LGBTQ+ Youth Report, only 13 percent of youth report hearing positive messages about being LGBTQ+ in school; 87 percent hear nothing or negative messages.
“When LGBTQ topics are not talked about they are perceived as taboo, something to be ashamed of, and inappropriate. If a child, a student or an adult identifies as a LGBTQ they feel the shame of not being ‘normal’ and this is why we have high rates of suicide, which Nutley is not immune to,” said Frobose.
Petracco said he has been contacting Frobose through emails. “[…] I sat on this board for 12 years, I was the mayor of this town. […] I know politicians are supposed to have thicker skin […] But I have to tell you, the comments I read on the internet. […] I have never been so hurt in my life to sit up here to get ridiculed from some people,” he said.
He said his deli in the township was picked on. “The first thing I see on the internet is boycott Petracco’s. […] I never felt so upset on an issue on reading how people want to affect my family, my living in this town after I’ve done so much for this community,” he said.
Frobose asked if he was taking this out on the LGBTQ+ community and claimed she had nothing to do with the boycotting statement on social media.
Petracco said although he had no problem with the Pride Month proclamation he was concerned since he is Roman Catholic. “I just wanted to check with my clergy. […] After checking with my clergy, I don’t have a problem signing the proclamation,” he said.
Petracco said everybody is welcome in Nutley. “I am a person who has never ever judged anyone in my life,” he said.
Frobose again asked him to sign. “You can put a stop to any of that talk with signing on to this proclamation,” she said.
Petracco stated, “Down the road in the future, you know there’s no body in their 20s on this board, including myself. If we want quality people to keep running for these spots to keep our town vibrant and moving forward, we should think twice before some of the people asking us to protect them, they should protect us and our businesses in town too, because we have children and we have families, as well, that we are trying to take care of.
“I want if on the record tonight that [..] if we don’t agree with a topic, and its one topic out of a thousand, that that makes us bad people because we believe something different than […] with some other organization. You know this is a national topic obviously but […] but when people want to start attacking your livelihood because your mother’s sick and you had to run out of a meeting,” he added.
Petracco left the June 18 meeting after the closed executive session due to his mother’s illness; he claimed he didn’t have time to read the proclamation prior to the meeting.
Petracco said he only attended the July 16 meeting because he knew Frobose would be there. “I don’t ever want it to be perceived to be that somebody’s going to bully me into doing something that I don’t want to do,” he said.
Frobose said, “Listen […] I think we want the same thing and we don’t want another person to feel so unwelcomed and shamed that they don’t want to get out of bed or they take their own life.”
Petracco answered, “You know what, there’s a lot of groups that have mental illness, […] and you know it’s a national topic and I’m not willing to discuss the inclusion part of it. I am willing to sign the proclamation because I believe in the good people in that organization.”
Frobose created an enlarged copy of the proclamation in which Petracco has signed after the meeting. However, as of Wednesday, July 31, Petracco has not signed the official township proclamation.
The next Board of Commissioners meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6.
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